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Tear It Down by Nick Petrie

Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on January 15, 2019

I enjoyed Light It Up (the third Peter Ash novel but the first I read), in part because Ash is a tough guy who doesn’t act like a typical thriller tough guy. There were enough fight scenes to establish his tough guy credentials, but there’s more to Ash than the ability to throw punches. I liked him even more in Tear It Down. When a kid steals his truck, wallet, and phone, Ash lets it happen, in part because he doesn’t want to risk being shot, in part because he doesn’t want to hurt the kid. That’s a refreshing attitude for a thriller tough guy. His restraint doesn’t stop him from being an action hero when the need arises, but he doesn’t feel the urge to show off his skills just to prove his toughness. Of course, Ash wants his truck back, which adds an interesting subplot to a main story that is already more entertaining than most tough guy thrillers deliver.

A homeless boy named Ellison Bell listens as his three friends, none older than fifteen, cook up a plan to rob a jewelry store in a mall. Bell is the smart one so he does most of the planning. He’s reluctant to take the risk but against his better judgment, he does. Of course, the robbery does not end well, and Bell is hunted by one of the baddest bad guys in Memphis. That sets up the subplot.

Meanwhile, Ash is getting antsy. His broken bones have mended, and as much as he enjoys his time with his girlfriend June, he needs to be on the move. June sends him to Memphis, where her friend Wanda Wyatt, a black lesbian war photographer, is being harassed by a white supremacist.

The harassment consists of destroying her house — repeatedly, on one occasion by using a belt-loaded machine gun. That seems a bit extreme just to make a black lesbian leave the neighborhood, so Ash and the reader wonder what the real motivation might be. The answer is surprising. Surprises are always good in thriller plots.

Ash has been damaged by his experiences, making him more likable than thriller heroes who are merely self-righteous or filled with the wrath of justice (however they define it). He’s also empathic; he can relate to the damage in others. He has an affinity for Wanda, who has seen her share of carnage and might be even more damaged than Ash. Lewis, his tough guy buddy, isn’t as carefully developed, but he’s likely to grow a more detailed background in future novels.

Tear It Down offers some insight into why redneck racists blame everyone but themselves for their problems. It paints a convincing portrait of Memphis as a city that offers few opportunities to people who were not born into the privileges offered by a middle-class life. The story argues that violence is a way for the powerless to gain a feeling of power, regardless of their skin color. At the same time, it suggests that people of all races can change negative racial perceptions by being kind to each other. Maybe those aren’t original insights, but they give the novel more weight than a typical action thriller.

Still, this is ultimately a tough guy novel, which means fighting, chasing, and shooting, all unfolding in cinematic style. The plot is unusual, unpredictable, and fun. With the addition of strong characterization and a bit of philosophy, Tear It Down demonstrates that Peter Ash novels merit the attention of fans of tough (but smart) guy fiction.


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