Robin Riopelle‘s Deadroads is a gripping murder mystery wrapped in a tale of family breakup, individual tragedy and eventual redemption. The story opens in New Orleans, where the Sarrazin children – Sol, Baz and Lutie – live with their Cajun father, Aurie, and their Acadian mother, Mireille. But this is not your typical suburban family. Of the five members, four can see and communicate with ghosts. The fifth can summon them with his extraordinary singing voice.
Aurie is a traiteur. He reaches out to ghosts caught in the half-world between life and afterlife, creates a path, or deadroad, and sends them on to their rest. Mireille has bound a ghost to her, partly to protect herself from other ghosts, and partly to gain access to supernatural knowledge. When her daughter, Lutie, asks if she can have her own ghost “pet”, Mireille knows that Aurie will object, so she decides to leave and take Lutie with her.
The story picks up years later, when the children are grown. Sol is a Denver-based EMT and a traiteur like his father. He is drawn to a series of grisly murders along the railroad tracks and discovers that his father died there, trying to guide a particularly dangerous and murderous ghost to his rest. He gets in touch with his brother Baz to tell him of their father’s death. Baz, now a professional musician, seeks out Lutie to tell her the news. Lutie was adopted following her mother’s suicide and now lives in Canada.
The three siblings meet in the bleak winterscape of the American Great Plains to unravel the mystery and finish the job their father started. As they chase the supernatural beings haunting the railyard, the legacy of their childhood – conflict, abandonment, resentment, troubled youth –seems to get in the way of their common mission. But as events unfold, they begin to work together, forgive one another, and find a way to heal as individuals and as a family.
Gripping, compelling, and fast-moving, this story is full of unexpected twists and turns as the siblings move inexorably towards their final confrontation with the powers of darkness. Riopelle’s style is intense and evocative : “…his voice trailed away, lost like smoke on the wind…”. The dialogue, a combination of French and English, reflects the siblings’ upbringing but is never so esoteric that the average reader can’t follow it. The frequent switching from past to present and from character to character does place some demands on the reader, but all the events and themes intersect perfectly as the story reaches its climax.
Though not an aficionado of the supernatural genre, I found this story riveting and its characters, including the supernatural ones, to be real, concrete and believable. The style is both muscular and lyrical, and the author populates the text with similes and metaphors that are a joy to read. This is Riopelle’s first novel, and I hope she’s writing more. For more information on the author, check out her website.