Peter Heller takes readers on another thrilling wilderness adventure in The Guide, set at a luxurious fly-fishing compound near Crested Butte, Colorado. Protagonist Jack, first introduced in Heller’s Deliverance-like novel, The River, is still recovering from the tragedy that unfolded before his eyes during a canoe trip three years ago. He has also never recovered from witnessing his mother’s violent death when he was a boy, another tragedy for which he feels responsible.
A virus known as Covid Redux threatens the world, but Jack hopes to lose himself in the rhythms of a pristine Rocky Mountain river as a fishing guide. “It’d be nice to have one summer of peace,” he muses. Fishing, in fact, is Jack’s therapy for his trauma and PTSD: “He had learned that it was much less a distraction than a form of connection: of connecting to the best part of himself, and to a discipline that demanded he stay open to every sense, to the nuances of the season and to the instrument of his own body, his own agility or fatigue.”
Jack is assigned to guide the perfect client, a fishing expert named Alison K who also happens to be kind, beautiful and a world-famous singer. Romance ensues, and things could hardly be better for Jack—except for strange events that build from a slow drip into a heavy cascade. There are security cameras on bridges and a nearby closely guarded fortress. Jack’s boss barks gruff, odd orders at him. Jack hears shots fired and strange screams, and finds a mysterious boot buried in the dirt that later disappears.
Heller is an expert at building suspense, and he’s a first-rate nature writer, lending authenticity to the wealth of wilderness details he provides. (He has traveled the world as an expedition kayaker.) He also uses a notable layout technique—adding space between each paragraph—that makes readers turn his thrilling pages even faster. One warning, however: Heller’s novels, especially The River, are not for the faint of heart. Still, The Guide is a glorious getaway in every sense, a wild wilderness trip as well as a suspenseful journey to solve a chilling mystery.