B-List: Why action fans should be reading the Peter Ash series

I’ve been a fan of action movies for as long as I can remember.

From watching Western gunfights with my Grandpa Underwood to the Mini Cooper heist in “The Italian Job” ...

Obsessing over “The Fast and the Furious” franchise with my pal Melissa, and convincing over 40 friends to see “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in theaters …

James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Ryan, Ethan Hunt: I’ve seen every one of their films multiple times. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Charlie’s Angels, the John Wick series, Mad Max — each new installment is immediately added onto my schedule.

But as much as I love action films, it’s a sad truth a majority of them are soaked in toxic masculinity.

Ladies are there only to be eye-candy, or to die and give the guy man-pain and motivation for his bloody rampage.

The buff, gun-toting heroes tend to be misogynists, who patronize or underestimate women at best, or are abusive and treat them like disposable commodities at worst.

(Commander Bond, I’m looking squarely at you.)

Being a female action fan usually means letting nasty stuff like that slide off your back for the sake of cool explosions and killer fight choreography.

But it also means at some point you just get tired of ignoring the bad behavior/unnecessarily bad writing. Why is it so dang hard for folks to create an action hero who doesn’t treat women like dirt?

And here is where author Nick Petrie comes in.

His series of fast-paced thrillers, starring veteran Peter Ash, are a tonic for anyone exhausted by chauvinistic action. There may not be any movie adaptations — yet; honestly, it’s only a matter of time given Hollywood’s need to constantly churn out new material — but trust me when I say even folks who prefer movies to books will devour these, and here’s four reasons why:

1. The hero.

Every action series needs a Really Cool Hero™, and Peter Ash? A Super Cool Hero™. A rangy Marine with years of combat experience under his belt, Peter comes home from Iraq with something he calls “the white static”: a manifestation of PTSD that gives him horrible claustrophobia indoors. To counter the static, he’s forced to spend most of his time outside, camping or driving down empty country roads in an ancient pickup truck.

This makes him a capable survivalist who eschews most possessions, a bare bones sort of guy who puts value on only the most important things: namely the ride-or-die friendships he’s been able to hold onto.

Because Peter is, at his core, loyal. Earn his respect, and he’s willing to die for you. Hell, he’s willing to die for people he’s just met if they seem kind and are in enough trouble.

See, Peter has a knack for running into folks on their worst days ever. And when Peter steps in to help, those people are helped. He’s like a guardian angel with near perfect marksmanship and a clever mind running a hundred miles a minute, a master tactician unafraid to get his hands dirty for a good cause.

He doesn’t seek out violence these days, he’s not a bloodthirsty guy, but when violence is called for? Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, no hesitation.

He’s also fundamentally decent — “He wasn’t built to turn away from someone else’s trouble. As far as he knew, he’d been that way since he was born. The Corps and the war had only sharpened the edge,” as Peter puts it in “The Runaway” — not to mention polite, quiet and practical.

With his lean build, worn clothes and serious gray eyes, he often reminds people of “a hungry werewolf”, which certainly sets him apart from other brawny Schwarzenegger types.

2. Percussive action that moves at a breakneck speed.

Choreographing a good fight scene is hard. (Speaking as a writer myself, I know.) Whether it’s for the camera or on a page, making everything flow clearly while maintaining excitement is a challenge. There are so many moving parts to factor, and when everything depends on a reader’s imagination, there’s also the setting and emotions to convey.

Nick Petrie makes it all look effortlessly simple. When you read his action sequences, they unfold in your mind like you’re seeing them on a big screen. It’s a full-body, visceral experience that’ll have you on the literal edge of your seat.

And believe me, seeing Peter in action is so satisfying. Capability and confidence are always exciting, and Peter has both in spades. Watching him put down a threat is like watching a great artist at work.

3. Entertaining plots with serious stakes.

Peter’s not a super spy like Ethan Hunt or Bond, but he still finds himself falling into some wild situations.

Helping the widow of an old Marine pal repair her house leads to him discovering a vicious dog, a duffel bag full of cash and some very dangerous C4 under the porch.

While hiking in the redwoods of California, he has to climb a tree in a hurry to escape a grizzly. But things get even wilder when he finds a desperate woman hiding in the canopy, being pursued by men who may’ve murdered her mother.

Sent to Memphis to protect a Black war correspondent who seems to be targeted by white supremacists, Peter ends up carjacked by a panicking kid and uncovering lost Civil War-era gold.

A normal stop for coffee with a friend finds him following a suspicious gunman into a shopping center, which pulls him into a shadowy conspiracy involving stolen computer technology that someone plans to use in killer drones.

And when he sees a car stopped by the side of the road and offers to help a stranded pregnant woman, he’s immediately chased by her violent ex-cop husband and his band of not-so-merry thieves.

Petrie comes up with some real humdinger plots, but the way he develops them makes perfect sense in-context. It also allows him to fill out each adventure with some very colorful co-stars, from pig farmer ex-cons with full face tattoos and black-bag assassins with the mentality of a Terminator to homeless musical prodigies and an insular Icelandic family.

4. Wholesome masculinity and well-written female characters.

To get back to my original point: the Peter Ash series is so refreshing because the lead is a genuinely decent dude. With his adamant code of honor and common respect, Peter’s a cut above so many other action protagonists. He’s a nice guy, not a Nice Guy. Earnest rather than quippy, a man whose actions speak louder than his words. And he’d never cheat on his girlfriend.

A girlfriend who’s pretty awesome in her own right; who’s a fully-fleshed and three-dimensional character rather than just a great rack in a low-cut top. Petrie is one of the few male authors I’ve found who knows how to write female characters as people, not just plot devices or Sexy Lamps.

And I hate that it’s so rare to find an action series where the lead has a long-time girlfriend who survives more than one or two stories — Peter and his gal have been going strong for six books now.

Thus far, there are seven installments in the Peter Ash series — the latest, “The Runaway,” hit shelves this week — and while it’s not absolutely necessary to read them in order, it does help in terms of development for the recurring characters.

So my advice is to swing into your local library or Barnes & Noble to pick up Peter’s first adventure, “The Drifter,” and go from there. If you love action and Super Cool Heroes, trust me: Nick Petrie and Peter Ash won’t disappoint.

• ANGIE BARRY is a contributing columnist for Shaw Media. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers topics in pop culture, history and literature, contact her at newsroom@mywebtimes.com.