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A Thriller with a Milwaukee Setting

Off the Cuff with novelist Nicholas Petrie

Jan. 3, 2017
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Photo Credit Troye Fox

Nicholas Petrie’s 2015 debut novel, The Drifter, drew comparisons to thrillers like Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne or Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Petrie’s protagonist is Peter Ash, an Iraq War vet suffering from PTSD in the form of extreme claustrophobia (which presents itself in the form of a rising level of “white static” whenever he enters a building). Ash’s first adventure takes place in Milwaukee, with several landmarks worked into the plot—there’s an exciting scene that takes place at Colectivo Coffee on Downer Avenue and the U.S. Bank building plays a major role in the storyline. Petrie’s follow-up novel, Burning Bright, premieres this month and features another action-packed Peter Ash tale that takes place on the West Coast.

What was the inspiration for The Drifter?

I work as a home inspector, so if you’re buying a house you hire a guy like me to see what’s wrong with it. I had clients coming back from overseas and I realized how little I knew about what they had gone through and the more I talked to them…I was embarrassed how little I knew. I was also fairly appalled at the treatment they get when they come home. 

Another part of it was the recession, which hit my business but didn’t hit me as hard as a lot of people that I know—contractors, real estate agents, all kinds of businesses. Seeing that collapse up close I realized how many individuals had been hurt or lost their houses.

I’ve always liked crime fiction, it was sort of a perfect storm—my business slowed down enough that I had a little more time to write and I was driving my wife crazy because I was wandering aimlessly around the house, so that’s how it got started.

Do you have any characteristics in common with Peter Ash?

Peter was a carpenter in his youth, which I was as well; I was a carpenter for 15 years so we have that in common. I wish I had his energy and his ability to act decisively. As a writer, I tend to think things through quite a few times, more than I probably need to. It’s fun to write about someone who just acts.

Tell us about your new Peter Ash book, Burning Bright.

Peter is back on the move after the first book and he’s always wanted to see the Redwoods, so he’s hiking in the Redwoods. He ends up climbing a tree and meets someone who is in trouble—and that’s the great way people have been starting crime novels, detective books and police procedurals for years and years. For this book, I was interested in the unintended consequences of technology, so that’s one of the things that underline the book. The other idea I had was I wanted my character to fall in love. I didn’t know how that would look; it’s problematic if you’re not a domestic person like Peter. He can’t even go inside, so what challenges would that provide? 

You announced you were wrapping up a third Peter Ash novel. Anything you can tell us about that?

I’m working on edits right now. It takes place in Colorado and is centered around the now-legal cannabis industry. There are several businesses that have grown around veterans that revolve around providing security for either cannabis growing or retail; that’s the centerpiece of the book.

Petrie kicks off a tour promoting Burning Bright with an appearance at Boswell Book Co. (2559 N. Downer Ave.) on Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.

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