Zakk reviews “The Red Highway” by Robert E. Dunn. 282 pages published by Necro Publications/ Bedlam Press
Overall Score: 4/5
“My mother used to say not sleeping was the sign of a guilty mind. It could have been. There was a lot in my mind to feel guilty about. When you’re drunk and trying to sleep, your thoughts are visited by the ghosts of those deeds whose heat still glows hottest in your personal darkness. Our actions burn much longer than the moments in which they occur. And drunks like me, we hide from the glow of the embers by fueling other fires and hiding within the flames.”
In 1992, as Los Angeles begins to simmer in the heat of racial injustices, one dark man appears everywhere, spreading his message of race war. At the same time, Paul Souther, a homeless drunk, joins a strange group of outsiders. Some black and some white, they all carry the weight of broken lives and lost faith. They are all drawn to LA, for the arrival of a child, impossibly carried by Mary Prince, a sterile porn star.
Through back roads and freeways everyone is pulled into LA and Mary’s side just as the baby is born. None of them have any idea that the city is a ticking bomb of anger. As riots explode, the mysterious man reveals himself to be an ancient, dark spirit using the rage of the people to stoke his own, literal, fires. He demands Mary’s child as sacrifice to keep the city, and perhaps the nation from burning. It falls to Paul, a faithless man, and a drunk with blood on his own hands, to make the impossible choice between the child and the city, and to save the people he has come to care about.
“There is a little furnace within every heart that burns pain. It is formed by a masonry of scars as tick by tick the tireless mechanics of life strip the innocence bestowed upon us at birth. There are some in whom life builds the furnace small and controllable, a passionate heat to burn off the losses, the harsh words and petty disappointments, leaving us cleaner for it. There are others. There are those whose innocence is assaulted early and with such brutality, that it goes beyond all the boundaries of deities and angels to stray into the world of unfettered evil. They build their furnaces differently.”
I remember the Rodney King assault, seeing snippets of the video on my local news around the clock. I was 14, living with my grandmother in Sacramento, about 8 hours away from Los Angeles where the assault and subsequent eruption of anger took place. Nearly burning an entire city to the ground.
I remember watching the riots taking place via live feed, the pent up outrage with no reasonable outlet exploding on the populace as a whole. Fires, theft, shootings, innocents being pulled from vehicles and savagely beaten. It was confusing, it was heavy, it was shocking, and that was from the safety of my grandmother’s suburban home.
I can’t imagine how claustrophobic and thick the pressure was on location in the time leading up to the acquittal of the officers involved and the lighting of the first fire and on though to the intervention of the national guard . I’d imagine that Mr. Dunn hits the notes pretty accurately in his novel “The Red Highway”, a vignette on racial tension/ intolerance with biblical implications taking place during these trying times.
The Highway is populated with a fine cast of interesting characters who start out wandering aimlessly and end up finding themselves, each other and a higher purpose in their lives. And we roll through this landscape from three perspectives; the impossibly pregnant porn actress and the dual father, the “reporter” and the “preacher” failing to live up to their titles, the drunk and the believer road tripping to their destiny.
Natural, believable dialog (a big deal) and a unbiased view on racial divides, faith & belief brings a realistic weight to this piece. Playing off of the flesh and blood characters nicely. My favorite angle of this book is that of Paul the drunk & Ford the believer, polar opposites compelled to travel together towards an unknown fate with a sense of a shared connection. Their journey is quite enjoyable as they grow individually and grow together, facing their respective demons, metaphorical and literal. Their travels cover a bulk of the novel and is the most captivating.
The angle of Jennifer Vixx the porn star was captivating but felt a bit cut short, like she should have had a larger, at least somewhat, role (other than the massive role of carrying an improbable child, which is pretty big). And the angle of Curtis the television evangelist & Danny the sensationalist reporter was interesting but a lot of their dialogue and interaction seemed to be circling around common conversations, repetitive to a degree.
When things come to a head, the finale is very cinematic, striking and the payoff is pretty great. I really enjoyed how the events play out, the choices made, and how all major characters get an opportunity for personal growth.
So all in all “The Red Highway” is an enjoyable ride through a chaotic landscape with a foot firmly planted in reality. Check it out. Especially the fantastic cover by Erik Wilson. It’s a beauty.
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*Note: I received a review copy of “The Red Highway” from the author in exchange for an honest review. These are my unbiased feelings.
Robert E. Dunn was born an army brat and grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. He wrote his first book at age eleven, stealing, or novelizing, as he called it at the time, the storyline of a Jack Kirby comic book.
His college course of study, philosophy, religion, theatre, and film/TV communications, left him qualified only to be a televangelist. When that didn’t work out, he turned to them mostly, honest work of video production. Over several years heproduced everything from documentaries, to training films and his favorite, travelogues. Still always writing for the joy of it he returned to writing horror and fantasy fiction for publication after the turn of the century. It seemed like a good time for change even if the changes were not always his choice.
He lives in Kansas City with three daughters, a young grandson, and an old dog. He tweets sometimes as @WritingDead but makes no promises how interesting those little posts will be.
“The Red Highway is not one of the best books that I’ve read so far this year, or that I’ve read in a long time…it’s one of the best books that I’ve ever read! It was an incredible read, one that has so many layers that I was completely enthralled with the story.” –2 Book Lovers Reviews
“A thoroughly gripping read. Dunn is a writer with guts and the chops to grab his readers by the eyeballs and dare them to look away.” –Hunter Shea, Author of Tortures of the Damned
Enter for your chance to win either a copy of The Red Highway, Behind the Darkness, or a print of the beautiful cover artwork from The Red Highway done by Erik Wilson! You can do multiple things each day to gain more entries! Just click the rafflecopter link. Forward any questions to Erin Al-Mehairi, publicist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ISBN: 978-1-939065-82-7 Trade Paperback (List: $12.95)
Distribution: Trade Paperback: Amazon, LSI and CreateSpaceeBook: Kindle, Smashwords, Baker & Taylor, Nook, LSI, Apple, Kobo, Sony and others