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by Chris Womersley
Quercus, January 2013
288 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 1780870574

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Chance brings together two desperate characters at a seedy motel in some unspecified Australian suburb. Lee, a petty criminal, has been shot when collecting on a debt, and needs urgent medical attention. Wild, a doctor struck off for causing a death when heavily drugged, is on the run to avoid a court appearance. Both need somewhere to hide, and take off together for the rural house of an old friend of Wild's where they hope to find relief from their pursuers.

THE LOW ROAD follows the fortunes of the two protagonists from their meeting, but the unfolding of events is interspersed with passages exploring their thinking and pondering the past events which brought them to their current pass. The author makes no secret of his understanding that the workings of fate are inexorable. Lee's early life was blighted by the car crash which killed his squabbling parents, with him in the back seat and the subject of their dispute. His drift into petty crime, prison and the horrors that he finds there seem somehow inevitable. In contrast, there is no clear explanation for Wild's descent into drug use, other than a genetic predisposition to addiction.

In neither case does the book allow that any redemption is possible: Lee muses upon the idea of taking up a straight life, and Wild when high glimpses the possibility of coming off junk, but it is clear these are idle dreams. The book is unremittingly dark and grim in consequence. There is no humour to be found, black or otherwise, no hint of any human connection or warmth, only the certainty of blind fate leading onwards to a cold and lonely death.

The tale is well-paced, back story being released slowly to build up the understanding of the characters, and is drawn to a suitably unpleasant conclusion. But it is a challenging read: there are one or two scenes so unpleasant that it is difficult not to skip them, or possibly to abandon the book at that point. None of the characters in the book have anything about them which tempts one to linger, to listen to their story with any great sympathy. If ever a book deserved the description of 'noir', then this must be it and lovers of that genre will no doubt find THE LOW ROAD to their taste.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, January 2013

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