Author Peter Heller has been a favorite of mine since I absorbed “The Dog Stars” (2012) in one sitting. His novel “The River” (2019) further hooked me, the page-turning survival story of Jack and Wynn, two young men battling nature and pure evil on a trip downriver.
Heller’s newest, “The Guide” is just as thrilling, but more puzzling and timely, as we revisit Jack’s life several years after two deaths he feels responsible for—losses that haunt him as he takes a job as a guide at The Kingfisher Lodge, a prestigious fishing camp for the well-heeled situated on a Colorado river.
Though the lodge is remote, some of the clients do wear masks because of COVID-19 and another virus that plagues the world. Among the people who have shelled out big bucks to stay at the lodge is Alison, a renowned singer with a passion and expertise for fly-fishing.
Jack’s notified by his none-too-friendly, rule-spewing boss, that he’ll be Alison’s guide, an assignment Jack doesn’t mind because Alison, despite being famous, seems sensible, unlike many of the guests at the lodge who look strung-out and act stranger by the day.
It isn’t long before the two bond as they catch and release gorgeous trout in the pristine waters. Alison becomes Jack’s ally, someone he can trust with a secret he discovers, a boot found in the woods, and other baffling occurrences that unsettle him, eventually forcing Jack to explore areas around the lodge he’s been advised to avoid.
The tension ratchets up as the puzzle pieces fall into place, culminating in a hair-raising conclusion. “The Guide” might have seemed a far cry from Heller’s previous book, "The River," less realistic, the plot harder to imagine, but COVID-19 offers this gifted author an opportunity to create a plausible story line that can be easily imagined.
This one’s sure to increase Heller’s fan base.