NATIONAL BESTSELLER and winner of the prestigious Reading the West Book Award. — From the national bestselling author of The River and The Dog Stars comes a carefully composed story about one man’s downward turning life in the American West” (The Boston Globe).

The Painter


Peter Heller, the celebrated author of the breakout best-seller The Dog Stars, returns with an achingly beautiful, wildly suspenseful second novel about an artist trying to outrun his past.

Jim Stegner has seen his share of violence and loss. Years ago he shot a man in a bar. His marriage disintegrated. He grieved the one thing he loved. In the wake of tragedy, Jim, a well-known expressionist painter, abandoned the art scene of Santa Fe to start fresh in the valleys of rural Colorado. Here he spends his days painting and fly fishing, trying to find a way to live with the dark impulses that sometimes overtake him. He works with a lovely model. His paintings fetch excellent prices. But one afternoon, on a dirt road, Jim comes across a man beating a small horse, and a brutal encounter rips his quiet life wide open. Fleeing Colorado, trying to outrun what he has done, Jim sets off for New Mexico, chased by men set on retribution, tormented by his own relentless conscience.

A stunning, savage novel of art and violence, love and grief, The Painter is the story of a man who longs to transcend the shadows in his heart, a man intent on using the losses he has suffered to create a meaningful life.

Praise & Reviews

[A] carefully composed story about one man’s downward turning life in the American West.… Beautiful near-visionary descriptions.”

The Boston Globe

Breathtakingly good new novel … A darkly suspenseful page turner… The book seems ripe-fruit ready for a film director looking for a literary thriller that doesn’t stint on the car chases and shootouts, even if he makes them a little more creative than garden-variety thrillers manage. . . The book’s greatest accomplishments might lie in its quiet moments, particularly the fly-fishing scenes in which Stegner — like many of Ernest Hemingway’s characters — seems to find a peace that is otherwise unobtainable… Heller’s laconic prose soars.”

— Doug Childers, The Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Painter achieves the rare alchemy that makes it simultaneously an intellectually provocative literary novel and a pace-quickening thriller… The novel alternates between adrenaline-fueled fight-and-chase scenes, striking images of the Western landscape and vivid descriptions of the artistic process and of Stegner’s paintings themselves, which come to life in Heller’s exacting language… Compulsively readable … Heller gives you everything you could hope for in a great summer novel: a driving plot with murder, vengeance and justice; love and love-making between fascinating, attractive people; an insider’s guide to the art world and the lives of famous painters; and an endearing protagonist’s journey toward epiphany and redemption.”

Nashville Scene

Looking for suspense with literary chops? Peter Heller (whose last book was the breakout bestseller The Dog Stars) is back with a brilliant page-turner about an artist with a dark streak… Heller’s gorgeous prose and the moral complexity of his narrator make this a standout.

— Dawn Raffel, Reader’s Digest

[A] carefully composed story about one man’s downward turning life in the American West … beautiful near-visionary descriptions … I read with great fascination.

— Alan Cheuse, The Boston Globe

A story of one man’s canvas and his second chance to repaint the future … [The] writing style … employs deeply reflective internal dialogue that is fortified by its rhythm and strength … While we cannot escape our past, we do retain the power to change our future.”

— Kacy Muir, The Times Leader

The 45-year-old painter Jim Stegner, the title character of Peter Heller’s second novel, is a Renaissance man of the American West. He reads T. S. Eliot and listens to Tom Waits… He also has a bad habit, when his temper flares, of shooting at people and braining them with rocks… Jim’s life changes decisively when he comes upon a blustery stranger abusing a small horse. Suspenseful scenes with the local authorities and vigilantes of various stripes propel the novel. Mr. Heller’s … close attention to the natural world serves his fiction well. The Colorado and New Mexico landscapes evoked in The Painter give the novel a deeper than usual sense of place.”

— John Williamson, The New York Times

Heller’s prose style … works brilliantly at allowing readers inside Stegner’s head to capture his often jagged thoughts. And Heller also does a wonderful job of evoking the process by which Stegner creates his paintings — a kind of furious inspiration that even he can’t always understand — and the different kind of release he finds in his beloved pastime of fly-fishing… The Painter is a strikingly complex character study, one that parcels out information about the details of Stegner’s back story while never building to an obvious cathartic revelation. Jim Stegner may be a mess of a man, but it’s fascinating watching Heller plumb his broken soul.”

— Scott Renshaw, Salt Lake City Weekly

The settings he moves through during his time in Santa Fe are as recognizable as if they were pulled from a postcard … Heller’s novel also paints a recognizable picture of the local art scene and the art world in general … Heller’s men are manly — they’re fisherman, they’re comfortable with firearms, they lust after women — but they aren’t the clichéd macho types you might expect … That’s what’s unfamiliar in Heller’s fiction, the unusual situations, the sense of being shadowed and stalked, and the gunplay that’s common to both novels. In this sense, the stories are of a classic type: unusual men, the kind we can identify with even if we’re not painters or pilots, thrust into unusual, even tragic situations. Yet at heart, these men are not so different than those we know.”

Santa Fe New Mexican

Heller’s first fictional outing was The Dog Stars, a breakout post apocalyptic tale. His new book opens in rural Colorado where painter Jim Stegner — failed husband, grieving father and barroom murderer — is trying to glue his life back together when trouble strikes again.”

Toronto Star

The complexity of Peter Heller’s characters, specifically Stegner, and his ability to integrate art with violence, poetry with addiction, and nature with deep introspection, makes The Painter an absolutely vibrant read… He is a Hemingway-esque character – outdoorsy, tough, alcoholic – but with a softer side … Heller’s poetic language slows the narrative and gives it a quiet, peaceful feel, in between bursts of intense plot development that keep the story moving … Humanity, redemption, and forgiveness lie at the heart of the story … a thoughtful and deeply satisfying read. I recommend The Painter to people who appreciate the outdoors, to people who could spend twenty minutes contemplating one painting in an art museum, and to people who prefer gray spaces to black and white.”

— Elena Spagnolie, BookBrowse

Meet Jim Stegner: mid-40s, a fly-fisherman, painter and killer. He is the masculine protagonist in Peter Heller’s new novel, The Painter. The opening line is masterful and captures our attention – 45-year-old Jim reflects, I never imagined I would kill a man.’ From then on, Heller holds us until the very last sentence … Rock solid prose … Whether you read this novel for the plot or appreciate it for poetic insights into the human condition, either way, you’ll be glad you did.”

Wichita Public Radio

Following on the heels of his blockbuster post-apocalyptic novel The Dog Stars, Peter Heller descends into the murky realm of art, fame and murder in The Painter. Again Heller uses a charming first-person, fly-fishing narrator, this time to recount a taut tale of anger, revenge and inspiration … All the drama unfolds in the stunning landscapes of Colorado and New Mexico, which Heller portrays masterfully… One of the true charms of the novel is Heller’s ability to describe Stegner’s art, to make it vivid and real, and to place us in the head of an artist who feels himself both out of control and at the peak of his abilities … It’s a suspenseful, compelling read throughout, and ultimately, that redemption is well-earned.”

Dallas Morning News

Heller … goes full speed ahead in The Painter. He catapults Stegner into attack mode in the first chapter, setting a pace that never lets up … With all the elements in place, Heller pulls the reader along at tremendous speeds, intercutting action and amazing descriptions of Stegner as he paints … Heller … draws Stegner’s surroundings in powerful, high-energy prose as, once again, he goes out with his rod and reel … Peaceful. Until it isn’t. This contrast between serene nature and extreme action made The Dog Stars such a sensation. Heller uses it again well in The Painter.”

— Kit Reed, Miami Herald

Offers modern twists on the ancient themes of family, duty, revenge, and justice … Most anticipated… Heller creates in Stegner a more flawed, reflective, and fully realized protagonist than the pining loner at the center of his first novel.”

— Bruce Barcott, Outside Magazine

What do you get when you cross Ernest Hemingway and Jackson Pollock? Something like white-bearded Jim Stegner, the 45-year-old man’s man of an artist at the heart of The Painter, Peter Heller’s entertaining new novel. Heller’s opening immediately grabs our attention: I never imagined I would shoot a man,’ Jim tells us. He’ll soon do much more than that … The ensuing chase scenes, unfolding through southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, are heart-thumping page-turners, culminating in an ingeniously played final twist. But what’s better still in The Painter is Heller’s account of Jim’s own struggle with the gnawing and growing guilt at what he’s done … The clear literary precursor here — right down to a similar horse-beating scene — is Crime and Punishment.”

— Mike Fischer, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Second novels are the test of a writer. Some novelists repeat themselves with diminishing returns; others strike out into unknown territory without an adequate map. Fortunately, Peter Heller belongs to a third group — those who stay grounded in what they know while expanding into previously unexplored terrain… The ghost of [Hemingway] drifts through the novel, in style and subject matter. Heller, however, has his own voice. Like The Dog Stars, The Painter is written in short, lyrical bursts, and the gaps between those passages are just as crucial as the words in them.”

— Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch

A riveting second novel from the author of The Dog Stars … An artist settles into a quiet new life in Colorado after serving time for shooting a man in a bar fight – and reconnects with his old rage.”

O Magazine

Right and wrong. Good and evil. Often, these are difficult distinctions to make, as we see in this second novel from the author of the acclaimed The Dog Stars … At times suspenseful, at times melancholy, at times spiritual, but always engrossing … Compelling … This novel embraces themes of personal loss and growth, drama and suspense, while also including plenty for those who enjoy art or nature fiction.”

Library Journal (starred)

Jim Stegner, celebrated painter, ardent fisherman and homespun philosopher, narrates this masterful novel, in which love (parental and romantic), artistic vision, guilt, grief, and spine-chilling danger propel a suspenseful plot… Heller is equally skillful at describing the creation of a painting as he is at describing the thrilling details of a gunfight. Here, he explores the mysteries of the human heart and creates an indelible portrait of a man searching for peace, while seeking to maintain his humanity in the face of violence and injustice.”

Publishers Weekly (starred)

Heller’s writing is sure-footed and rip-roaring, star-bright and laced with dark yearning,’ coalescing in an ever-escalating, ravishing, grandly engrossing and satisfying tale of righteousness and revenge, artistic fervor and moral ambiguity.”

Booklist (starred)