“He wanted to choke the world if only he could find its fucking neck.” –She Rides Shotgun
Jordan Harper has previously released two collections of short stories that showcased the talent he possesses and left a lot of us salivating at the prospect of him putting his pen to work on creating a novel that allowed him to further explore all the potential he exhibited in these collections. Well, the wait is over and it has been worth every second; Harper has blessed us with a book that will kick your ass in a way that will leave you begging for more. She Rides Shotgun is gritty, unflinching, and full of heart and soul.
Nate McClusky is a man bred for crime. Following in the footsteps of his older brother, he quickly escalates from a boy into a hardened criminal. After his second conviction for armed robbery, he is sent away for a long prison stretch. As he is nearing release, Aryan Steel (a white supremacist group) send a message he is to become one of their hired workers on the outside. Knowing this will be its own life-sentence, Nate declines the order and ends up killing the brother of the Aryan Steel leader. Nate emerges from jail days later, a free man on legal paper, but a dead man on Aryan Steel paper, courtesy of a signed death warrant from Steel’s leader; with the additional order of killing McClusky’s former wife and his child, Polly.
Nate seeks to protect Polly, but not so much out of love, but instead out of an internal refusal to let Aryan Steel members have control over him and his family. When Polly’s mother is killed, Nate must take Polly under his direct guidance and go on a quest to not only avenge her mother’s murder, but to eliminate all future threats. This quest is not altruistic, as Nate does it for his own reasons:
“He knew that vengeance was a dumb and selfish act, and he knew if it went wrong he would leave Polly exposed and alone. Nate would be a fuckup again, one last, worse time.
But he was going to do it anyway. The ghost of his brother inside his head would have it no other way.”
In some ways, it’s a coming of age story. Not just of Polly coming out of her shell of innocence into a world in which everyone has an agenda, but the coming of age of Nate. It’s a beautiful story of him coming out of the hardened criminal shell he has surrounded himself within and learning to love something and someone, not for what they can do for him, but because who they are to him.
Harper has penned a very special debut novel. It is tender, yet rugged. From prison gangs, death sentences, and drug mules, to creating family bonds where there were none, loving the only way you know how to love, and accepting the love someone is prepared to give you, even if it’s not the love you thought you were looking for, this book covers a wide scope and does it all with a poet’s touch. I think this book is going to garner a lot of attention for Harper and it is well deserved. This novel does it all right.