Faren Miller reviews Robin Riopelle

Deadroads, first novel by Canadian illustrator Robin Riopelle, moves deftly between the flashbacks of three children growing up in southern swampland (here Bayou Country in the 1990s) and contemporary scenes of the hunt for an uncanny serial killer, as a long-dispersed family reacts to the father’s death.

Louisiana Cajuns cling to folkways that go back to medieval France. As children on the Bayou, the Sarrazin kids couldn’t help but notice their parents’ remarkable sensitivity to the ghosts, demons, and angels who lurk near our world and sometimes touch it, for good or ill. Maman tamed a private ghost-companion; Papa Aurie sent more restless, difficult ghosts down the Deadroads with the force of ritual.

After his wife left him – taking along a young daughter she would later abandon – Aurie moved to the Midwest, but continued to find work breaking up hauntings, until the last case left him dead in a rail yard. Though Lutie (the girl her mother dumped far from Louisiana) has grown into her teens with a loving foster family in Canada (none of them Gifted or Acadian), she still has enough Sarrazin in her for news of the murder to jolt her into action. She needs the brothers who drifted apart in the States, where Sol became a driver/paramedic for Denver Health and Baz tours as a wandering musician. They still have their own odd talents: Sol traces unworldly pathways; Baz fascinates spirits wherever he sings, despite a professed disbelief in magic.

When Lutie, Baz, and Sol rejoin to hunt the killer (a monster driven by entirely human passions and grievances) through rural Nebraska, the supernatural never seems far away. Here Sol isn’t just an outsider bored with his new surroundings: ‘‘Running between the two – the dying river and the crumbling highway – bright open sky, thin dry earth, blocky black cattle destined for the dinner plate, and iron rails. These were the constants, cardinal points in this limbo.’’

Deadroads is a Novel of Supernatural Suspense with elements of the Western’s quest, showdown, and vengeance… Riopelle knows what she’s doing.

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