Nothing Short of Dying is Storey’s first novel, and it’s full of no-holds-barred action. Despite some inconsistencies, it’s a good read, featuring a protagonist alienated, as so many Americans are, by time spent in prison. In some ways it is very much a tale of 2016 America. I received my DRC free and in advance in exchange for my honest review; thanks go to Net Galley and Scribner.
Our protagonist is Clyde Barr, and since the novel is labeled “Clyde Barr #1”, we’ll be seeing him again. Barr is back on the outside. He’s spent so much time away, between prison and time spent in Third World nations, that the rampant consumerism he finds upon returning to US society and the vast number of choices over trivial things overwhelms him. He wants to head to the Yukon and enjoy some time in the woods, but before he can do that, he gets word that his younger sister Jen, who’s very close to him because of shared childhood trauma, is in trouble and needs to be rescued.
I’d seen evil on three continents, some of it unspeakable, but it seemed worse in this place I called home. On a different continent, everything—good and bad—can seem strange, alien. But you don’t expect to come back to places that seem too familiar and discover the greatest evil of all.
Despite the occasional moment in which a female does something proactive, Storey’s plot is full of damsels in distress, and Barr’s whole mission is to save his sister, and then later to also run to the rescue of another woman that appears along the way, but to whom he grows inexplicably attached in a really short time. Character development is shallow, but I can see that an effort is made. Storey also uses the unsavory technique of identifying a bad guy by having him use nasty, racist language. But this is not one of those books I only finish due to a deal with the publisher; I genuinely want to see where this one is going and how it will come out.
Barr is a rough and tumble type, the kind of guy that makes his truck start by kicking the side panels and door and slamming his fist on the hood. It makes me like him.
Not so appealing is his reaction to the irritated woman working in the bar: “On her the expression looked cute.”
However, the thing that resonates most for this reviewer is that when trouble comes calling and another character asks him whether they ought not to call police, Barr says no:
“’They probably have guns.’
“’So do I,” I said.’”
The fact is that Barr flies under a black flag. He doesn’t care about preserving evidence; in fact, it improves things if his fingerprints are nowhere close to any of the messes he either starts or finds himself part of. And fifteen years ago, I don’t think a book like this would’ve found a reputable publisher like Scribner. Barr is our hero, but he has no respect for officers of the law, and his inclination is to solve problems and even make a living in a way that goes around US law rather than in accord with it.
But today so many ordinary, decent people have either done time for something most countries wouldn’t consider to be a lock-up kind of offense, or have a loved one that is or was imprisoned, that alienation from cops and the sometimes the law has become the new normal. I write this from a middle class neighborhood in mellow Seattle, a place where the neighborhood association sat down with a representative from SPD to ask that they let us solve our own problems and quit sending officers here to stalk every Black kid that drives, walks, or gets off a city bus. And I know this scenario is playing out across the nation, but it’s worse in down-and-out areas where people prefer to hide from cops, or film them, because nobody from the cop shop is going to come out to have coffee and chat with the locals.
When you have no power, nobody from downtown cares what you want. And so I think a story like this one will find a receptive audience. There is really no Officer Friendly; if you can’t avoid problems, you have to deal with them yourself nine times out of ten.
This novel, the reader should know, is brutal, violent, and grim. There are torture scenes. The pacing is almost always lightning fast, with lots of fast driving and shooting; the pace only slows in one area, and that is whenever Barr has to build a campfire out in the middle of nowhere, we get a detailed lesson in how this is done. Once I was on my second detailed campfire lesson, I made a note in my tablet. Why are we suddenly stopping for another campfire lecture? But in general, the action travels at warp speed. You have to have the stomach for it, though. But I am a retired English teacher, and there are stories I don’t want to read because they are too graphic; this one stayed inside my ick-boundary by a tiny margin. So if you’re still reading my review and considering reading this book, likely you’ll be okay.
I made a more positive note at the end of chapter 23, because it flowed really well.
A favorite passage is when Barr is hobbling up the mountainside on an injured leg, “sucking air like a sun-stroked impala.” Storey’s figurative language is strong in a number of places, and it helps keep the pages turning.
The story’s denouement left a bare thread dangling in a somewhat obvious way, but this is the writer’s first installment in the series. With strong imagery, a clear plot line, and action, action, action, I know this is a writer to watch. I look forward to seeing the next Clyde Barr novel; this one was released recently, and you can get a copy of your own right now.
With the caveats above, I recommend you read this adrenaline-coursing thriller.