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Book Author: Lou Berney

DARK RIDE by Lou Berney: Book Review

Calling Dark Ride a thriller is an understatement.  It’s a novel that’s so tense, so taut, that I was finding it difficult to turn the pages, fearful of what would happen next.

The book starts out calmly enough.  The protagonist is Hardy Reed, although he’s always called by his childhood nickname “Hardly.”  That’s because he’s often hardly anywhere–at college, where he dropped out after three semesters; at his dead end job at a rundown amusement park; in his life, which he’s going through “high” most of the time.

In his semi-stoned state, Hardly goes to the Driver Improvement Verification department to get a thirty day extension on paying his parking ticket.  After accomplishing that, he turns around and is leaving the building when he sees two children sitting on a bench.

Hardly thinks they’re too young to be left alone waiting for an adult to finish whatever business has brought them here, when he notices three perfectly round marks on the girl’s ankle.  For a moment he’s confused, thinking they might be moles or tattoos, but then he realizes they’re too perfectly circular to be either–they’re cigarette burns.  And a second look at the boy shows that he has three identical marks just above the collar of his shirt.

At that moment a woman, whom Hardly thinks must be their mother, walks over to the bench, and then the three of them are out the door.  It all happens so fast that Hardly doesn’t have time to react or talk to the woman.  By the time he gets to the parking lot the car is leaving, and it’s too far away for him to read the license plate.  He returns to the DIV desk and manages to get a look at the sign in sheet, and he sees the name Tracy Shaw a line or two above his name.  That must be the children’s mother, he thinks.

Slacker though he is, Hardly wants to help the children.  He first goes to Child Protective Services, but it’s obvious that the case workers there are overwhelmed and not too interested in finding these anonymous children.  Next he talks to his two friends,  but they are so high on weed and whatever else they can lay their hands on that they’re no help.

After much investigating on his own, he’s able to find out the girl’s name and the school she attends.  He visits her teacher to ask whether he has any concerns about her safety or noticed any signs of abuse.  The teacher admits he had some concerns, but a conference with both parents and the girl allayed his fears.  But wait, Hardly thinks.  The teacher “asked Pearl if she was being abused by her parents while her parents were in the room.  How could he be that clueless?  Even I’m not that clueless.”  So he decides he has to go this alone.

Lou Berney has written a spellbinding thriller, as he had with two of his previous novels I’ve reviewed on this blog, November Road and The Long and Faraway Gone His characters are wonderfully drawn, from the major ones to those who appear in a brief scene.  The plot, as I mentioned, is breathtaking, and you will be swept away as you read.  And the conclusion is one I never expected.

You can read more about the author at this site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


NOVEMBER ROAD by Lou Berney: Book Review

In August 2015 I reviewed Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone.  In that post I wrote that the book was one of my year’s top reads.  Now Lou Berney has written another thriller, and this one also is one of my favorites for the year and well worth the three-year wait.

November Road takes place immediately after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  In Mr. Berney’s novel, the killing was a mob-directed hit, and Lee Harvey Oswald was an innocent dupe who was chosen to “take the fall.”

But because there can be no loose ends, the killings don’t end with Kennedy’s death but continue relentlessly, one after the other, each man killing the one under him and being killed by the one above in a possibly futile effort to erase all traces of the man behind the assassination.

Frank Guidry is a high-level gangster out of New Orleans, but not so high that he can’t be eliminated.  When he realizes that the seemingly insignificant errand he had run in Dallas two weeks before the shooting, dropping a car in a parking garage two blocks from Dealey Plaza, now implicates him in the murder of the president, he knows he’s in danger.

Carlos Marcello, the kingpin of crime in the Big Easy, has a plan to get rid of the car and any possible ties to himself.  The car has already been driven from Dallas to Houston, ready for disposal.  Marcello tells Frank that all he has to do is fly to Houston and drive the car off a pier into a forty-foot ship channel, thus ending any possible connection to the New Orleans syndicate.  What could be easier?

But Frank can put two and two together as well as Carlos, or almost as well.  He realizes that the first thing on Marcello’s agenda is get rid of the car, the second is to get rid of the man who put the car in the Dallas garage in the first place.  And that means him.

While Guidry is trying to figure out how to dispose of the car while still keeping himself alive, another scenario is being played out miles away.  Charlotte, a young housewife and mother of two young daughters, decides to reinvent herself.  After years of dreaming about another life she leaves her alcoholic husband, puts the girls and their dog in her car, and heads to California.

After a day of driving, Charlotte’s car slips into a ditch and needs major and time-delaying repairs.  She and her daughters and their dog go to a motel for the night, and that is where her path crosses with Frank’s.  And the impact of this is life-changing for both of them.

Lou Berney’s novel is a fascinating look into an historic event in American history.  Part of the pleasure in reading November Road is to get another point of view into what possibly happened on November 22, 1963, and another part is following the lives of Guidry and Charlotte, two people who on the surface couldn’t be more different but yet will turn out to have a definite connection.

November Road is a tour de force, a triumph of story-telling that will keep you breathless until the last page.

You can read more about Lou Berney at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.



THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE by Lou Berney: Book Review

The Long and Faraway Gone is definitely one of the top five mysteries I’ve read this year.  But to call this outstanding book a mystery is to limit it unfairly to that genre; although it follows two crimes and the resulting consequences for more than two decades, it is more a story of how violence and unanswered questions can define the lives of those left behind.

In August 1986 six teenage employees were shot to death in an Oklahoma City movie house after closing hours.  A seventh employee was found on the floor with the others, but he was not shot.  The police investigated for weeks but found no trace of the killers.  Now calling himself Wyatt Rivers, the man who was then the teenage Mike Oliver has spent twenty-six years wondering why he survived when the others didn’t.

Wyatt is now a private investigator in Las Vegas, and one of his clients asks him to go to Oklahoma City to check on a relative of his wife’s.  Candace Kilkenny, a young single mother, has recently moved to Oklahoma City to manage a live-music club left to her by a friend.  Candace doesn’t know anything about running a club, never had been to O.C. before, but she and her five-year-old daughter left Vegas and moved there.  Now she tells her cousin that someone is harassing her, and she needs help in figuring out what to do about it.

Wyatt doesn’t want to take the case, doesn’t want to go to O.C., but he also doesn’t want to share his reasons.  So, after a twenty-something year absence, he returns to the city of his youth and his nightmares.

In September 1986 there was another crime in that city, but this one was barely investigated.  Two sisters were spending the evening at the Oklahoma State Fair when the older one, Genevieve, left her twelve-year-old sister Juliana alone, sitting on a sidewalk on the fairgrounds.  Telling her younger sibling that she was going to check out a party she’d heard about and would be back in fifteen minutes, she walked away.  And in the first of many twists in this excellent thriller, it’s Genevieve who disappears and is never heard from again.

The police were convinced that Genevieve was a runaway, so little time was given to the case.  Juliana has spent the past two decades following every possible lead in an effort to locate her only sibling.  Her parents are dead, and she has made finding Genevieve, or at least finding out what happened to her, her life’s mission.  Her obsession, some would call it.  But for Juliana there is no choice; she must know what happened.

Lou Berney has written an extraordinary novel.  What happens when someone cannot let go of the past and go on with his/her life?  It’s understandable when those events are as traumatic as being the sole survivor of a massacre or having a loved one leave without a final word, not to return.  Yet shouldn’t life continue for the survivors of such tragedies, even if those lives can never be the same?

The Long and Faraway Gone is a book that will keep you engrossed until the end, pondering the above question well past the time you put the book down.

You can read more about Lou Berney at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.