Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Guide by Peter Heller

Peter Heller’s The Guide brings back Jack, one of the memorable protagonists in Heller’s magnificent 2019 adventure tale The River. When you love a book as much as I loved The River, it’s dangerous to step into the author’s next title especially when it features a character like Jack. The two novels are quite different, yet both rely on Heller’s gift for making nature come alive. 

It’s three years after Jack’s harrowing journey on the river in Canada and he’s still grieving both his mother’s earlier death and what occurred when he was in Canada. No spoilers: just promise me that if you haven’t read The River that you’ll read it before reading The Guide. 

Jack has taken a job as a fishing guide at Kingfisher Lodge, an exclusive Colorado resort where privacy is valued more than catching elusive trout. It’s after the initial Covid pandemic and the appearance of new variants and there’s fear of the after effects which may explain why some guests don’t mingle. Soon after arriving, Jack learns that a few guests don’t fish, that the resort’s neighbor shoots at anyone coming close to his land, that only a few are allowed to drive on resort property, and that all gates are locked from the inside as well as the outside. 

Jack is assigned as Alison K.’s guide. He knows she’s famous, but it isn’t until he hears her voice that he realizes that she’s a super star. She’s older than he is and is smart, kind, and tough. She’s a highly skilled angler and she and Jack fall into a pleasant routine when they fish that soon evolves into a romance. After the neighbor shoots at Jack, he and Alison begin investigating to see what the other guests are doing and why there’s such secrecy at the resort. It would ruin the suspense to give any clues to what they find, but it does provide a clever way to show the power of privilege and money. 

Heller’s descriptive passages are magnificent and he makes you feel as if you are casting with Alison and Jack. I haven’t fished since I was a kid, but I loved every scene on the river. His words put you in the water.

He was almost under the bridge when he raised the rod high and brought the exhausted trout in the last few feet and unshucked the net from his belt and slid it under this beauty and cradled her in the mesh. She was a species of gold that no jeweler had ever encountered—­deeper, darker, rich with tones that had depth like water. He talked to her the whole time, You’re all right, you’re all right, thank you, you beauty, almost as he had talked to himself at the shack, and he wet his left hand and cupped her belly gently and slipped the barbless hook from her lip and withdrew the net.

He crouched with the ice water to his hips and held her quietly into the current until half his body was numb. Held and held her who knew how long and watched her gills work, and she mostly floated free between his guiding fingers, and he felt the pulsing touch of her flanks as her tail worked and she idled. And then she wriggled hard and darted and he lost her shape to the green shadows of the stones.”

I found the romance between Jack and Alison less satisfying than the rest of the novel. It did not, however, detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. Heller’s pacing and the way he portrays evil make for an intriguing suspense novel that’s an engaging tale of what could happen “if.”

Summing It Up: Read The Guide to savor Heller’s phenomenal descriptions of fishing and of the magnificent natural beauty of the Colorado resort area depicted in the novel. Select it for your book club so you can discuss how money, power, and privilege can corrupt and endanger our world. Savor it for the menacing story of what could happen that will leave you breathless.

Note: I have a minor quibble with the novel’s use of the word fisher. I understand Heller not wanting to use fisherman, but I’d have preferred angler as it seems less contrived. Since the novel featured fly fishing, I feel the term angler would have worked better than the word fisher.

Rating: 4 Stars

Category: Fiction, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Mysteries and Suspense, Super Nutrition, Book Club

Publication Date: August 24, 2021

Author Website: 

Read an Excerpt:

What Others are Saying:

Kirkus Reviews:

Publishers Weekly: 

“Heller presents another brilliantly paced, unnerving wilderness thriller paired with an absorbing depiction of a remote natural paradise. … Masterful evocations of nature are not surprising, given Heller’s award-winning nonfiction about his own outdoor experiences, while his ability to inject shocking menace into a novel that might otherwise serve as a lyrical paean to nature is remarkable.”  –Booklist, starred.