When Peter Ash’s girlfriend, June, urges him to travel to Memphis to help out a friend, she has an ulterior motive. She knows that Peter, healed now from injuries sustained during his last mystery adventure, is getting restless. But she doesn’t count on his getting on the wrong side of both a powerful gang and a psychotic white supremacist. In his fourth Peter Ash novel, Tear It Down, Nick Petrie takes readers on a wild ride through a story featuring hatred, revenge, and not a small amount of redemption.
When Peter arrives at Wanda Wyatt’s house, he is greeted by the sight of a dump truck sticking out of the front of the house. The harassment directed at June’s friend has turned violent, but Wanda, a photojournalist, has no idea why she’s being targeted. Not long afterward, a teenage boy carjacks Peter’s beloved truck. Readers familiar with the Peter Ash novels know that Peter would have no trouble dispatching a carjacker, but he sees something in this kid, a sign that the boy is desperate but not evil.
Eli is desperate. His brother and mother have lost their lives, directly or indirectly, to gang violence. His father is in prison. The grandmother he lived with has died. Now, at fifteen, he and some friends squat in various dilapidated houses for shelter. The only thing Eli loves is his guitar, a love that has helped him avoid the neighborhood gangs so far. But when his friends threaten to break the guitar if he doesn’t help them pull off a robbery, he reluctantly accompanies them to a mall in a wealthy suburb.
Predictably, their plan fails, and Eli finds himself back in the neighborhood, his friends all either shot dead or arrested. He also finds himself in the crosshairs of a ruthless gang leader. Although Eli doesn’t know it, the jewelry store the boys robbed serves as a money-laundering outfit for the gang.
Meanwhile, back in Tear It Down’s other storyline, Wanda’s attackers are equally dangerous. Two brothers, one of them a violent ex-con who became a virulent racist while in prison, are behind the escalating harassment. Their motive for attacking Wanda stems from a family legend about an ancestor who was the mistress of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
As in the three earlier books, Peter Ash is an engaging character. A veteran with a bad case of PTSD, he can be a dangerous man. But his suffering and the evils he’s seen also make him able to reach out to others who are in pain. He recognizes that Wanda’s drug addiction has something to do with the violence she witnessed as a photojournalist in war zones. He knows that Eli is worth saving even as the kid steals his car. But if Peter has to kill, he will. And he has his own sense of justice. When Wanda tells him she can’t afford to pay him to fix her house, Peter smiles: “Oh, someone will pay,” he tells her. “We just have to find him.”
Nick Petrie can tell a great story, and Tear It Down is full of action. But he is also a sympathetic storyteller. The story’s narration is shared by Peter and Eli, but also by Albert, the unrepentant white supremacist. By dividing the novel’s point of view this way, Petrie makes it easy to understand how a black kid who has been failed by both his family and society and a middle-aged white man who has been weighed down by despair and failure can find themselves committing violent, senseless acts.
While Tear It Down is the fourth Peter Ash thriller, readers can safely start with this one. Petrie quickly and seamlessly weaves any necessary background information into the plot without bogging down the story. In a story about gangs and white supremacists, it may be too much to hope for a happy ending: both scourges will always continue, no matter what one person does. Nevertheless, Ash and his friends bring a tiny bit of justice to a tiny part of the world. And sometimes that’s enough.
Faye Jones, dean of learning resources at Nashville State Community College, writes the Jolly Librarian blog for the college’s Mayfield Library. She earned her doctorate in nineteenth-century literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.