In 1992 the city of Los Angeles was a hotbed of racial tension and South Central was a stick of dynamite waiting for a spark. On April 29 of that year the spark came in the form of the acquittal of the police officers who had brutally beaten Rodney King. The bedlam that ensued after the announcement of the verdict became known as the LA riots or, more commonly, The Rodney King riots. It’s into this already fearsome and hostile environment that Robert E. Dunn infuses the story that takes place in THE RED HIGHWAY.
THE RED HIGHWAY Synopsis
In 1992, as Los Angeles begins to simmer in the heat of racial injustices, one dark man appears everywhere, spreading his message of race war. At the same time, Paul Souther, a homeless drunk, joins a strange group of outsiders. Some black and some white, they all carry the weight of broken lives and lost faith. They are all drawn to LA, for the arrival of a child, impossibly carried by Mary Prince, a sterile porn star.
Through back roads and freeways everyone is pulled into LA and Mary’s side just as the baby is born. None of them have any idea that the city is a ticking bomb of anger. As riots explode, the mysterious man reveals himself to be an ancient, dark spirit using the rage of the people to stoke his own, literal, fires. He demands Mary’s child as sacrifice to keep the city, and perhaps the nation from burning. It falls to Paul, a faithless man, and a drunk with blood on his own hands, to make the impossible choice between the child and the city, and to save the people he has come to care about.
I was 28 in ’92 and just coming into a sense of awareness of events outside my own sphere of influence. I remember watching events unfold on the news as tensions grew approaching the moment of that fateful verdict. With every story, every image on the television, you could feel the pressure building, sense the disaster looming just over the horizon. In THE RED HIGHWAY Robert E. Dunn has captured that sense of impending doom masterfully.
As I am wont to do, I always look for an authors greatest strength in a given story, that one little thing that really makes it work. In THE RED HIGHWAY that strength is arguably Dunn’s commanding use of natural, flowing dialogue. The exchanges between characters, particularly Paul the drunk and Ford the midget, are smooth, often quirky and humorous, but never awkward or stilted. And, while the story deals with issues of racial tension and religious beliefs, it does so in an unbiased fashion that informs while managing at the same time to not seem overly preachy.
With beautiful descriptive imagery, frequent bursts of sarcastic humor, and a healthy dose of dread, Dunn moves his tale forward with well paced cadence. He takes his time building things up, developing a strong sense of place, a meaningful conflict, and outstanding characters. In the final, fiery confrontation I found myself on the edge of my seat, clinching my teeth and rooting for the full-bodied, convincing and likable cast of characters.
One thing I was uncertain about going into this: the story concept and some of it’s details sounded an awful lot like THE STAND redux. And, in truth, it does share some thematic elements with that book, but nothing that detracts from the tale. As events unfold and you draw toward the conclusion of the book, THE RED HIGHWAY is very much it’s own story and Dunn’s own unique and satisfying creation.
I hadn’t read Dunn before this so I didn’t know what to expect, but what I got was a captivating, fast paced story that leaves me hopeful that Dunn has a long and successful career. THE RED HIGHWAY is a winner.
About Robert E. Dunn:
Robert E. Dunn was born an army brat and grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. He wrote his first book at age eleven, stealing, or novelizing, as he called it at the time, the storyline of a Jack Kirby comic book.
His college course of study, philosophy, religion, theatre, and film/TV communications, left him qualified only to be a televangelist. When that didn’t work out, he turned to them mostly, honest work of video production. Over several years he produced everything from documentaries, to training films and his favorite, travelogues. Still always writing for the joy of it he returned to writing horror and fantasy fiction for publication after the turn of the century. It seemed like a good time for change even if the changes were not always his choice.
He lives in Kansas City with three daughters, a young grandson, and an old dog. He tweets sometimes as @WritingDead but makes no promises how interesting those little posts will be.
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