reviewed by Pam Guynn
What a fantastic debut novel by T.R. Hendricks! The Instructor is the first book in the military action thriller series featuring Derek Harrington. Derek is a retired Marine who has had trouble adjusting to civilian life.
After 22 years in service and five years after his retirement, his life is a mess. Teaching wilderness survival classes is inadequate to sustain his expenses including supporting his ex-wife Kim and son Michael. Additionally, his father needs more care than he can give him.
When a student offers him the opportunity to instruct a private group for 30 days in upstate New York, Derek reluctantly accepts the job. This leads to a new offer to him from their leader, Marshal. When something feels off about the offer, and after reaching out to an FBI contact, Derek accepts the offer and goes undercover.
Derek is very capable, but suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and nature is his sanctuary. Despite this, he continues to occasionally suffer flashbacks. He loves his ex-wife and son, but has anger issues. His knowledge of survival off the land, evasion, resistance, and escape methods is unparalleled. Marshal is a charismatic leader that is also a manipulator, but while his character didn’t change over the course of the book, he was memorable. Many of the other characters came to life as well.
Hendricks does a great job on world building. The plot and writing style immediately pulled me into the story and did not let up until the final paragraph was read. The deeply involved plot has several twists and turns and the setting was incredibly vivid. The novel includes a lot of details on wilderness survival as well as punishing training exercises to meet the second job offer’s objectives. Some discussion of weapons occurs as well, but not as much as in some military thrillers. My one quibble is that there were a couple of slower spots, but Derek likely needed them as much as many readers will.
The author is a wonderful storyteller and I found myself progressing effortlessly through the narrative. The most intense action is in the last third of the book. Hendricks balances the shocking and upsetting aspects of the novel well against the mystery of the group he’s training and Derek’s love of his family. Themes include death, anger, power, fear, money, manipulation, trust, lies, politics, and much more.
Overall, this exciting debut novel is a powerful page-turner with great world-building details and tension that was almost alive. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.
Tor Publishing Group, Forge Books and T. R. Hendricks provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. The publication date is currently set for April 11, 2023.