A new guide stumbles across a dark mystery at the heart of an elite retreat
A heart-racing thriller about a young man who is hired by an elite fishing lodge in Colorado, where he uncovers a plot of shocking menace amid the natural beauty of sun-drenched streams and forests.
Kingfisher Lodge, nestled in a canyon on a mile and a half of the most pristine river water on the planet, is known by locals as “Billionaire’s Mile” and is locked behind a heavy gate. Sandwiched between barbed wire and a meadow with a sign that reads “Don’t Get Shot!” the resort boasts boutique fishing at its finest. Safe from viruses that have plagued America for years, Kingfisher offers a respite for wealthy clients. Now it also promises a second chance for Jack, a return to normalcy after a young life filled with loss. When he is assigned to guide a well-known singer, his only job is to rig her line, carry her gear, and steer her to the best trout he can find.
But then a human scream pierces the night, and Jack soon realizes that this idyllic fishing lodge may be merely a cover for a far more sinister operation.
I’ve been reading Peter Heller’s work since The Dog Stars, and each of his books has been an enjoyable, well-written read that offers a twist on a new genre. The Guide is no different: this time, it’s a mystery set during a pandemic at a retreat for the wealthy and famous. Well-written, I quite enjoyed this.
This is the first novel I’ve read during the pandemic that itself features some kind of a pandemic. It’s kept mostly off-page, focusing instead on the experiences of Jack at the Kingfisher Lodge: a highly exclusive retreat, with outdoors activities, plenty of high-end fishing (complete with, of course, professional guides). The novel isn’t particularly action-packed, but instead builds for most of the pages to a final, explosive confrontation. Jack spends his days fishing, teaching others to fish, and getting to know Alison — a superstar singer who is a guest at the Kingfisher Lodge, taking some time away from the spotlight and relaxing during a global pandemic.
The fact that I guessed what was really happening at the Lodge didn’t detract from how much I enjoyed the book — Heller’s prose is excellent, and he has a gift for writing about the outdoors that is compelling, even if it’s a subject about which you have no interest (fly fishing, in my case). Also, I enjoyed reading how Jack’s suspicions were raised, reinforced, and ultimately borne out by what he finds on his various excursions.
That’s not to say that the novel is flawless: indeed, there were a few times when I was frustrated by decisions Heller wrote for his characters. It seems convenient, for example, that Jack’s eventual love interest is (perhaps) the only visitor at the Lodge in some way no involved in what really going on — the hidden, ultra-exclusive and mysterious treatments that take place elsewhere on the property. Even guests who appear to be paragons of grace and virtue are complicit, and yet not Alison? It seemed to be the point of the retreat, as Heller’s written it, so how is it that she’s completely oblivious to the darker side of the place? It felt a little to me like the author wanted to keep Jack’s love interest “good”, even though it doesn’t quite make sense. Anyway, that’s a minor niggle, and doesn’t really detract from the rest of the novel.
Heller is very much from the school of less-is-more writing, and his novels can often feel a bit unformed or incomplete. Long-time readers of disaster fiction (post-apocalypse, dystopian, etc.) may not find many surprises in The Guide at all (I’ve read this premise at least once before). But, if you’re looking for a well-written, good read, then I wouldn’t dissuade you from picking this one up. Quickly paced, well-written, and quite engaging, The Guide is another good read from Heller. Looking forward to reading his next one.
Peter Heller’s The Guide is out now, published by Knopf in North America and W&N in the UK.
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Review copy received via Edelweiss