RUNNER is such an appropriate title for Patrick Lee’s fourth and latest novel, by far his best to date. We first meet Sam Dryden, the protagonist of this thrill-per-page book, as he is taking a late evening recreational run. He promptly meets a young girl named Rachel, who is running for her life. Dryden, a retired special ops team member with a frightening skill set, becomes Rachel’s self-appointed protector as they are chased across the country --- from the West Coast to Chicago and beyond --- by a powerful and shadowy group of people with the might and majesty of every tool of the United States government at their disposal.
"I spent most of the novel waiting for a net to drop over Dryden and Rachel. It does, for a moment or two, but Lee is just getting started. By book’s end, your heart will be in your mouth or on the floor, everywhere it’s not supposed to be."
So why are the runners running? That takes a while to be revealed, though Lee drops breadcrumbs throughout the story starting near the beginning. It seems that Rachel has some sort of power; unfortunately, she’s been held in a facility where they’ve kept her medicated, so she isn’t entirely sure what it is. She has some amazing capabilities when it comes to mind-reading, but the thing she can do --- the one thing she can’t remember --- is the reason that some powerful and dangerous people want her dead. Dryden is the perfect person for Rachel to run into. He’s dealing with some losses of his own and moving on automatic pilot through life when Rachel literally runs into him. He takes her under his protection as they both run for their lives.
You will be forgiven if your two primary and constant reactions throughout RUNNER are 1) How will they get out of THAT?! and 2) WTF? Is Rachel’s power ultimately revealed? Yes, and it is a scary one, a power that will make your hair stand on end and cause you to wonder if Rachel, or someone like her, isn’t out there right now, doing what she is capable of doing.
There is also a high level of paranoia that runs through RUNNER, as Dryden finds that the number of people he can trust is almost as low as the number of people he can believe. There aren’t many, including a surprise or two. But that would be telling. For every great protagonist, one needs an even greater and more powerful antagonist. Lee gives us that someone who, with a snap (or two) of his fingers, can make Dryden the most hunted man in America. I spent most of the novel waiting for a net to drop over Dryden and Rachel. It does, for a moment or two, but Lee is just getting started. By book’s end, your heart will be in your mouth or on the floor, everywhere it’s not supposed to be.
RUNNER is complete in itself, though I understand there are more Dryden books on the way. This is good news. He is a strong but sympathetic protagonist with a subtle element of humanity, which is missing or perhaps less pronounced in similar characters one might find in the thriller novel section. Here’s to much more of Dryden and Lee in the future.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 21, 2014