One of the joys of reviewing books is discovering a new writer and I had this most recently with Hanna Jameson, who’s work until now had regrettably passed me by. Her third novel, Roadkill, was featured on one of the review sites I subscribe to (Bookbridgr? Nudge Real Readers? I forget now) and I requested it on the strength of the cover art.
As mentioned, Roadkill is the third novel to be published by the author, and while it can be read as a stand-alone story, the tale utilises many of the same characters as her previous work and unfolds in the same “universe” as it were. In this sense, it reminded me of the work of James Ellroy, a writer she lists as one of her influences.
When reading a novel in a series it can go either way. Some author’s books really do stand on their own and the reader doesn’t need to have read their previous work. Other novels rely so much on past events that a new reader can quickly get lost. Roadkill kind of straddles a middle line. Yes, this is a standalone story, but I found myself wondering at what had gone on beforehand and feeling like I was missing something. This was most apparent in the main characters’ motivation.
Roadkill follows two British gangsters on a road trip across America. Eli ropes Ronnie into a mission to find a guy called Trent who screwed Eli over years ago. And here lay my confusion. Eli had founded a magazine. Trent, with others, forced him out, and took over the enterprise. But this was years ago and quite frankly was just business, and so I found myself confused as to why Eli wanted him dead now. More seriously, I couldn’t grasp why Ronnie felt compelled to help him. It all seemed pretty thin. Perhaps I was missing something. Perhaps if I had read the author’s previous work I might better understand.
But I persevered and I must say that I’m glad that I did. Because Roadkill quickly becomes a kind of Tarantino fantasy of a novel. It’s a gutsy, rollercoaster of a book, where these two British criminals travel across the United States taking drugs, killing, and encountering all kinds of weird and wonderfully fucked up people. For example, along the way they meet an alchemist who believes that he can change base metals into gold. And who provides them with pills that might just be able to cure any ailment. And that’s before we get to the Satanism. Yes, that’s right, it all gets really quite creepy and sinister when devil worship and missing kids enter the frame.
If there’s one criticism I have at this point it might be that at no point do Eli and Ronnie cross paths with the police. They butcher their way across America and never bump into a cop. But in some ways that makes sense as this is almost a psychedelic crime novel (in the Charles Manson sense of the word) and I’m not sure how seriously the author expects us to take it all. It’s not comic or comedy, hell no. Roadkill is dark stuff. But in the same way that one suspends their disbelief when, say, watching Pulp Fiction, or Reservoir Dogs, if one does so with Roadkill then you’re in for one hell of a ride.
All in all I must say that Roadkill is a brilliant, brash effort. This is the deepest, darkest noir. All the characters are repulsive, though all are strangely compelling. And I want to spend more time with them. Proof is that on the back of Roadkill I ordered both the author’s previous novels from Amazon. I look forward to what this author pens next.