A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
The thing I love most about reviewing books on VL is the freedom to write anything I like. My feeling is that a review that comes from a real person, someone you’re beginning to know a few things about, rather than just a name at the top of the page, is more compelling. And this is where we bloggers have the upper hand. With this in mind…
Today, I want to share my thoughts on The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks. I was initially drawn to this book when I discovered it has a character named Cole. I have an eight year old called Cole, a somewhat unusual name, so unusual that you can’t get pens or key rings or mugs or those signs you hang on doors saying “Cole’s Room”. (This was something I hadn’t considered when naming my child – and it does become an issue when you’re wasting hours in an airport shop or have pocket money to spend in Woolworths.) Anyway, after reading The Road of the Dead, I discovered this book is absolutely not suitable for an eight year old, so it shall be put away until he’s older – bummer!
The Road of the Dead is a gripping murder mystery, very dark and in some places extremely violent. Reuben and Cole are half-gypsies living in London. Their sister is brutally raped and murdered in a small village on Dartmoor, the police are slow to investigate and their mother can’t bury her daughter until the case is solved.
The main character, fourteen year old Reuben has the gift of second sight, he “saw” his sister being killed and he knows the Dead Man did it. Reuben is introspective, questioning, a deep thinker with reasoned actions and sensible decisions. Cole on the other hand…
I looked at his face. I like looking at his face. It’s a good face to look at – seventeen years old, dark-eyed and steady and pure. It’s the kind of face that does what it says. The face of a devil’s angel.
Cole and Reuben travel to Lychcombe to bring their sister back. They’re met with a closed community; resistant, aggressive, hostile. The landscape is bleak and dark, the weather is cold and miserable and the people are just downright nasty. But through all of this is a sense of hope that kept me turning the pages at a furious rate. I was willing these boys to triumph, to solve this unspeakable murder and to bring the complete bastard perpetrators to justice.
The brutality throughout this book was graphically drawn, Brooks pulled no punches. But all of it was within context and he deftly drew out the characteristics of the various shades of nutters that roam this planet. And I feel that violence should be shared with teenagers in a realistic way. There’s no point in having someone beaten to a pulp off screen and then have them coming bouncing back on as though nothing had happened. Show them the pain, the agony, the suffering. Show them the full horrors of what it feels like to be mashed to within and inch of your life. Maybe they’ll learn something.
There was a knot-hole in one of the floorboards – an odd little oval shape with intriguingly slanted sides – and that was my sanctuary. That was where I was nothing. Deep in the hole. Lost in the dark. Being nothing. Riding the pain.
When Red grabbed my hair and slammed my head back against the post, I still didn’t feel anything, but this time – when my head rolled back – I couldn’t get back to my hole. Red was keeping hold of my hair, forcing my head back, shoving his face into mine. Making me look at him. I closed my eyes I could feel his sour breath scouring my skin.
‘Open your eyes,’ he hissed. ‘Look at me.’
I imagined my hole. My sanctuary.
A flick knife snapped. Cold steel pricked the skin of my eyelid.
‘Open them or lose them,’ Red said.
The writing, as ever for Brooks was magnificent. There were times at which I had to stop and marvel and then try to forget I was a writer and just get on and read the story.
Cole nods. He likes the old man now. He likes his simplicity. He likes his cheap cigars. And he likes his niece, too – if that’s what she is. Cole somehow doubts it. Not that it matters. He doesn’t care who or what she is – he just likes her. I can feel the attraction tingling in his veins like electric blood.
I can feel his uncertainty too. He isn’t used to liking things, and he isn’t sure what to do about it.
‘I need some air,’ he says to Jess. ‘Can we go for a walk or something?’
The way Brooks uses Reuben’s ability to feel his way into others thoughts and experiences is superb. It not only takes us out of the perspective of the MC to see things he shouldn’t be able to and therefore gives the reader much more information but it underlines Reuben’s empathic nature and makes us care about these kids so much more.
So, this certainly isn’t the book for the little boy named Cole I had first hoped it might be. But in a few years time, I shall dust it off and present it to him, in triumph – although by then, it’ll no longer matter that there’s at last something with his name on it. But I know he’ll love the The Road of the Dead nonetheless.
(Oh and P.S. in case you’re wondering – my Cole is nothing like the Cole in the book. My Cole is like Reuben and I had to triple check this review to make sure I hadn’t got the names mixed up!)
The Book Depository have several more Reviews.