Review of NOTHING SHORT OF DYING

NOTHING SHORT OF DYING
Erik Storey
2016
Simon and Schuster

When it comes to crime fiction, escaping the clichés necessary to write a novel with mass appeal while also offering a unique, fresh reading experience is almost impossible to achieve. Erik Storey’s NOTHING SHORT OF DYING, however, pulls it off, and the author does so in a way that is even more impressive: with his debut. Rough men, violence, guns, shady pasts, a new love interest, and drugs are all classic elements that can be found in this narrative, but Storey uses them wisely inside a mold that is entirely his. The result is a novel that belongs next to those of Jeffrey Deaver and Lee Child, but that simultaneously heralds the arrival of a new voice that will breathe new air into tough guy literature with its knack for violence, unexpected humor, and love for wild, natural spaces.

NOTHING SHORT OF DYING opens with Clyde Barr enjoying nature and solitude in the Utah wilderness. He has been out of the filthy Mexican jail in which he spent three years for only a week and is eager to reach the Yukon and start a new, mellower life. He has seen war and done many bad things while roaming the less hospitable corners of the globe while working as a guide and gun for hire, but the dreams of a calm existence are shattered by a panicked phone call from one of his sisters. She is in trouble and asks Clyde to save her a second before the call disconnects. The bloody, sad, abusive childhood Clyde and his sisters survived starts coming back to him as he sets out to figure out who kidnapped his sister and then attempts to get her back. What follows is a fast-paced, ultraviolent narrative full of dead bodies, bad men, secret agendas, and unsuspected sidekick that takes Clyde by surprise and eventually becomes something he never thought she would.
There are a few things Storey does well in this novel, and two of them deserve special attention because they speak volumes about his talents as a storyteller and made me very excited about reading the next Clyde Barr adventure. The first is secondary characters. In most novels, secondary characters are mostly there to serve a specific purpose or to get killed. In Nothing Short of Dying, that’s not the case. Storey writes secondary characters with the care and attention to detail that most authors save only for their protagonist. In fact, between Chopo and Zeke, two secondary characters that get to shine in the first and third act, respectively, this novel is like a master class in making unique, entertaining, multilayered supporting characters:

“I didn’t tell her what Zeke used to do. How he used to run drugs out of Mexico, heading in the floorboards of stock trailers full of Mexican cattle that he sold in the states for triple what he paid. Or how he screwed a bunch of cartel guys out of a lot of money and then ran and hid in Arizona. Until a little guy found him and Zeke shot him, way out in the Cabeza Prieta. Zeke buried the body, and then, ironically, got popped back in Mexico for speeding. He beat the tar out of the traffic guy, knocking out an ally. No one ever connected him to the Arizona body, but he was given teb years in a Mexican border prison for the cop.”

The second element that makes this narrative shine is that Storey, who has spent a lot of time in the woods and mountains, manages to convey his love for wilderness without detracting from the narrative, and he does so with very readable prose that places the reader wherever the action is taking place.

NOTHING SHORT OF DYING features a likable character with a dark past and a strange set of ethics that make a lot of sense. Clyde Barr is a superb shot and knows how to fight, but he still gets hurt and tired in more than one way, which makes him human and relatable. Erik Storey is obviously aware of the tropes of the genre, and instead of trying to evade them, he tackles them and makes them dance to his own rhythm. This is one outstanding debut that should place Storey on many radars and that will have anyone who reads it eagerly awaiting for Barr’s next adventure.

Gabino Iglesias