“The Guide,” by Peter Heller (Alfred A. Knopf)
It seems like a dream job for a Kremmling ranch boy: becoming a guide at one of the world’s most exclusive fishing camps. He has a single client, his own cottage, gourmet meals. But something seems off to Jack. He’s been warned not to let his client fish outside the boundaries of the resort or risk being shot by a neighboring rancher.
Gates to the fishing compound are locked from the inside, and cameras are hidden in the trees. Guests are happy one day and haunted the next. Jack spots what he thinks might be the body of another guide, but when he goes back to investigate, the body is gone, the area swept clean. Then there is a terrifying scream in the night. Was it an owl or a woman?
Can the job in the mountains near Crested Butte, which he hoped would bring him peace, actually be another tragedy? Jack’s life has been filled with them. He blames himself for the accident that killed his mother when he was a boy. And he’s haunted by the murder of his best friend, Wynn, three years before, in author Peter Heller’s last book, “The River.” Jack hopes his time in the Colorado mountains, fishing in its bountiful streams, will restore him.
Determined to find out more about the resort, Jack makes a nighttime foray into the mountains and discovers it is connected with the neighboring ranch he’s been warned about. He’s not the only one who thinks the fishing camp isn’t what it seems. His client, Allison, a famous singer, hears the scream, and the two share their suspicions, determined to find out what’s going on.
They’re thwarted when Jack is suddenly fired, ostensibly for not turning in his gun. Allison explodes, threatening to bring unfavorable publicity to the resort. So Jack remains, only to find his cabin is bugged, and he and Allison are isolated from the rest of the group because they’ve gone into Crested Butte and been exposed to COVID-19.
“The Guide” is not really a mystery, nor is it an outdoor guide. It is a literary work and a paean to fishing, as inspiring as “A River Runs Through It.” Heller is poetic when he describes what fishing means to Jack:
“All his life, when things had gotten really tough, or confusing, or almost too beautiful to bear, Jack had gone fishing. He had fished through every job and heartbreak … 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 … the only way he truly knew how to love anything.”
Heller, a Denver author whose “The River” was a finalist for the Edgar Award, writes in a terse but engaging style. Except for Jack and Allison, characters are loosely drawn. Just as in “The River, where Heller’s love and knowledge of the water is evident, fishing is almost a character in “The Guide.” The book is short and filled with fishing lore in place of extraneous plots.
At times, the story is overblown, and Jack becomes something of an action figure, but those are minor criticisms. “The Guide” is a beautifully written book, a tribute to Colorado, its bounty and its ability to heal the soul.
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