‘The Guide’ by Peter Heller

‘The Guide’ was my first Peter Heller book. I went into it with no expectations other than that it would be a thriller about a fishing guide up in the Rockies.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing. I don’t fish and I’ve never understood the appeal of it yet Peter Heller soon had me imagining myself wading into the waters of a mountain stream and slipping into a state of mind where there was nothing beyond the rhythm of fly fishing, the flow of the river and the peace of the wilderness.

The plot was also a surprise. How do you turn an exclusive luxury fishing lodge for the rich and famous into something dangerous? Well, by making it clear that something secret is going on, by populating the story with well-drawn, plausible but unpleasant characters and by slowly increasing the sense of foreboding as each new anomaly is uncovered.

The tension was increased by making me care about the two main characters, the guide, from whose point of view the story is told and his celebrity country singer client. The guide has a trauma in his past that is slowly and skillfully revealed. The chemistry between the guide and his client was engaging and real and didn’t devolve into romantic clichés..

The plot that emerged was clever and plausible with just a little bit of willingness to go with the flow.

Everything was going well until the last twenty per cent of the book The final chapters moved from ‘A River Runs Through It’ to ‘Skyfall’ in a single step. What had been a tense mystery suddenly became The Cowboy And The Country Singer Kick Ass And Blow Stuff Up. It was well enough done but after such a careful and credible grounding it felt disappointing – like biting into an apple and finding it was an orange on the inside.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by John Chancer. John Chancer is a good narrator but I felt he was miscast here. The guide is a man in his twenties. Chancer sounded much older than that. By the time I found out the guide’s age, I was picturing a much older man. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear for yourself.

Despite some eye-rolling at the spectacular ending, I had a good time listening to ‘The Guide’ and I’m interested in reading more of Peter Heller’s work. I’ve picked up a copy of ‘The Dog Stars’ which sounds intriguing:

Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.

But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.

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