Godspeed by Nickolas ButlerBart, Teddy, and Cole are the team behind True Triangle Construction, a small-time outfit struggling to get over the hump to real projects. They hang sheetrock, replace appliances, rebuild garages, and sub for bigger contractors, still waiting for their big chance. When it comes, it’s in the form of an unbelievable house in the mountains, faced with a nearly unreachable deadline, and the enigmatic Gretchen, the demanding and exacting client. The monetary reward for finishing on time and the professional credibility the project will lend, are unequaled and life-changing.

The house is to be tastefully elegant and expensive, built into the side of a canyon, resting above a hot spring, and opening on unrivaled views of mountain valleys, but the effort is fraught with trouble. The road to the worksite is unreliable as the weather pummels it. A worker from a previous contractor has already died in the early stages, due to the frenetic pace required to finish on time. The trio of Bart, Teddy, and Cole are consumed with ambition, greed, and desperation to do the work on time and to specs.

Each of Bart, Cole, and Teddy have stressors which add complexity to the work at hand and the need for the huge payday. Straight-laced Teddy has a young family, just scraping by, and is conflicted by the need for family time on top of sixteen hour days or longer, and his wife’s insistence on a place of their own in a time of skyrocketing housing prices. Cole, facing an imminent divorce, is suffering intense physical pain after years of construction labor, and longs to take his earnings and leave. Bart is an ex-addict. To finish the house all three go far beyond their comfort zones, and into deep jeopardy. Bad things happen, which I won’t tell you about here, but despite all their deep, deep flaws, Butler seems to have a genuine affection for them.

Gretchen is an aging San Francisco attorney who grew up hiking and camping on the very land where the house is being built. She has worked relentlessly her whole life only to be waylaid before retirement with inoperable cancer. She demands, without explanation to the men, the house be finished, so she can spend her last days there. She’s their golden ticket, and a hardass, and Butler uses her, or at least her image, to inflame some class conflict within the story, complicated by the richness of Jackson, WY and the relative poverty of the construction workers.

If you’ve ever built a house, or spent a lot of time on a worksite, much of the early chapters of this book will ring true to you. The craftwork and the tradesmen and the relentless organization of workers in and out of a workspace, matched with the looming hammer of a deadline is on the nose. I can visualize those men, their motivations and their pleasures and biases. They make a up a substantial and realistic base to the main characters.

Is Godspeed a thriller, as billed? Well, maybe not to me, not in the traditional sense, anyway. Butler steadily increases the pressure through the novel, and has a few shocking moments, but it’s not exactly rife with unexpected plot twists or any kind of villain at all, except maybe meth or knee pain or the rising costs of homes. It is, however, suspenseful and uncommon, relentlessly careening toward something inevitable.