Review of A PROMISE TO KILL by Erik Storey

Erik Storey

Publishing an outstanding debut is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the author can say he or she has “made it” and bask in the glory of a book received with praise by both readers and critics. On the other hand, a great debut creates high expectations. That’s probably the cause of the sophomore curse. In any case, I was worried about author Erik Storey because his first book in the Clyde Barr series, Nothing Short of Dying, was full of action and great writing and, perhaps more importantly, a ton of heart. Two chapters into the second entry in the series, A Promise to Kill, it was clear that Storey had not only delivered another stupendous novel, but hand somehow managed to surpass his previous effort in terms of action, beautiful prose, and heart.

A PROMISE TO KILL finds Clyde Barr alone once again and back to his aimless wandering, although this time in American soil. He’s on horseback, somewhere in the mountains, when he crosses paths with an elderly sick man. The man, a Ute Indian from a nearby reservation, clearly needs help, and helping out is something Barr can’t keep himself from doing. Helping the old man leads Barr to meet the man’s daughter, Lawana, and his grandson, Taylor, both living in the reservation. Barr likes them and offers to help out on their farm while the old man heals. That’s how he learns about a group of bikers who moved into the dilapidated town recently. The bikers call themselves Reapers and spend their days harassing the Native American women and bothering the residents of the reservation. When they attack a local boy, Barr gets involved, and that is the beginning of a narrative in which much more than the health of the folks living at the reservation is at stake. What follows is a tense, violent, fast-paced narrative about injustice, inequality, and doing the right thing.

The first thing that should be said about this novel is that Storey is blazing a path for those authors who want the success of a big publisher/mainstream release but also crave the opportunity to write meaningful narratives that incorporate Otherness as a central part of what they offer. In A PROMISE TO KILL, the author engages to various degrees with the all the elements readers have come to expect from edge-of-your-seat thrillers, but he does so without compromising the heart of the story or shying away from consequential discourse. The truths of life in a reservation are exposed and the relationship and history, not to mention the current situation, of Native Americans with and in the country at large are looked at through a brutally honest lens. In this regard, this novel transcends its own entertainment value and occupies a special space where important narratives and cinematic, action-packed stories are one and the same.

Erik Storey

As mentioned above, I went into this worried about whether it would live up to its predecessor. Luckily, Storey’s writing quickly surpassed the first book in the series with a passage that encompasses Barr’s love for nature and being outdoors:

“The place had a beauty of its own, though. In the mornings, the dew balled up on the sage, and when the sun rose the light refracted through every small drop of water, turning the flats into a brilliant kaleidoscope. At night, when the sun dropped below the rocky mesas to the west, the higher hills and mountains to the east would bleed red in the alpenglow. I fed horses and cut hay during the day, and frequently I’d be visited by ravens and magpies and deer. It definitely wasn’t like the high alpine meadows that I was headed toward, but at least I was outside.”

A PROMISE TO KILL triumphs because it is at once a collection of great elements brought together by a cohesive story and much more than the sum of those elements. There is plenty of action and fights, both of which Storey does well and with impeccable economy of language, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. There is also danger, physical exertion, a touch of humor, a constant quest for justice, and even a bit of a love story, which eventually becomes a vehicle for the author to further explore Barr’s nature, motivations, and the way he makes decisions.

Ultimately, what makes this a must-read is the balance the authors achieves between classic thriller elements and a superb look at Otherness, extreme violence and the beauty of nature, and lots of action while also taking time to look at the people involved in it and the way the process their experiences. This is a great great read, a superb second entry in the Clyde Barr series, and one more reasons while fans of good writing need to have Storey on their radar.

~Gabino Iglesias