The Road of the Dead

Road of the Dead

Author: Kevin Brooks

Publication: Chicken House, 2006

Pages: 368

Overall Rating: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]                        

Rating for Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Rueben and Cole’s sister has been brutally murdered.  The two brothers travel to Dartmoor, a lonely and forbidding place in southwest England, to find her murderer and bring him to justice so.  Cole is brutal and violent, willing and able to do whatever it takes to get the job done.  Rueben has an unusual gift, he can get inside other people’s emotions and truly see the world through their eyes.  In fact, he saw the world through his sister’s eyes only moments before she died, and the memory of it still haunts him.  Together, the two brothers enter a world of brutal violence and danger as search for Rachel’s killer and the answer as to why she died.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: This is a beautifully written book.  It’s full of gorgeous and evocative sentences like, “Red breathed on me again, his breath like rotting silence.” And “The emptiness went on forever.  There were no houses, no cars, no shops, no people, no nothing.  Just a lonely gray road, leading to nowhere.”   Brooks’ language makes the desolation of the moors and the desperation of this isolated village and its inhabitants thrum with life.  And this bleak, lonely landscape provides the perfect backdrop for a story about murder, fear, and desperation.

His descriptions of people are equally powerful, building an intimate portrait of each character, no matter how minor, with a handful of well chosen words.  For example, “His close cropped hair was almost as red as his suit.  His teeth were sharp and his eyes were wrong.  I didn’t know how they were wrong, but they were.  Everything about him was wrong.”  And from that brief description we know almost everything we need to know about one of the more psychotic villains Cole and Rueben have to confront.

The vivid descriptions carry on throughout the book, adding a visceral quality to all of Rueben and Cole’s interactions.  When Rueben is being attacked by Red at one point, we hear this- “He drew back his lips and barked.  His eyes were crazy.  ‘Dawg for a dawg,’ he started hooting.”

If you’ve noticed how much I’m quoting here it’s because the language is that good.  It’s impossible not to quote it.

What I Liked the Least: Cole may be 17, but he feels and acts like an adult.  There’s nothing at all about him that suggests he might be a kid, and with Rueben as the younger brother Cole sometimes comes off feeling more like his dad than someone who’s only three years older than him.  That makes Rueben the only real kid in a world of dark and vicious adults.  And well Rueben’s intelligence, empathy, and powers of observation (as well as his ability to get inside other people’s emotions) are vital to the story, it’s Cole’s violence – his fast fists and his willingness to do whatever is necessary – that ultimately breaks through the veil of secrecy surrounding Rachel’s death and drives the story to its violent conclusion.  And time after time it’s Cole who saves Rueben from danger.  So even though this is a YA book it doesn’t always feel like one.

How Good was the Action?  The action here was dark, visceral, and brutal.  In some ways, the actual violence done was no worse than in most other YA thrillers, but the dark atmosphere and the chilling attitude of the men – including Cole – who carry out the violence somehow made the whole thing feel more bloody and brutal.  And let’s be clear, Brooks does not hesitate to let the blood flow.  While no one necessarily dies in the course of this book, there’s no shortage of broken noses, cracked ribs, faces slammed into walls, crushed windpipes, or people getting shot in the shoulder and other non-vital areas.  And there’s something about the evil pleasure many of the men exhibit while dealing out the brutality –along with Cole’s own soulless, remorseless approach to violence –that makes everything seem more horrific than it really is.

But don’t take any of this to mean that the action isn’t good.  It may make you squeamish, but the scenes themselves are excellent.   In some ways, it feels a bit like how people describe war.  The scenes move slowly for a time, with a confrontation and words exchanged, and then a sudden explosion of violence that’s over almost as soon as it’s begun.

How Engaging was the Story?   Many of the characters Brooks has assembled here are reprehensible, and if you lived near them you’d probably be too terrified to leave the house (unless you had the misfortune to live in the village where this novel is set, in which case you’d want to get on the first bus out of town and never look back.).  But, they’re so vividly drawn that no matter how loathsome they may be they still draw you in.  Perhaps the most vivid character of all is the moor itself.  Its bleak atmosphere is everywhere, pervading the story and everyone in it.

The visceral atmosphere and dark, brilliantly described characters make this book very difficult to put down.   And as Cole and Rueben delve deeper into the mystery of Rachel’s murder, and their violent confrontation with the people behind it looms into view, you’ll literally be holding the book in a death grip.  As another reviewer said, “You can taste the blood in your mouth as you read this…”  How right they were.

Overall Assessment: I think I’ve already said it all.  If you can stomach the dark, violent atmosphere and the taste of blood in the air, read this book.  It’s worth the experience.

Profanity: Definitely.  And a lot of it.

Sex: None.  Rueben does have a bit of a crush on a gypsy girl, but nothing comes of it – not for him at least.

Violence: ‘Nuff said on that front.  See above for more.

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