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Book Review: The Midnight Road by Tom Piccirilli

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Tom Piccirilli’s novel, The Midnight Road, won the International Thrillers Award in July 2008. I didn’t know that until after I’d read the book and did a little research on the writer. I do know that the whole time I was reading the book, I was nailed to the pages and couldn’t walk away from the story.

I’d read Piccirilli before, but I’m not a big fan of horror. I have a select few authors/books that really hit that hard-to-reach spot for me when it comes to horror. I thought all Piccirilli wrote was horror and Westerns.

However, when I read The Cold Spot by Piccirilli earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a kick-butt crime novel that felt like one of the old Gold Medal novels I cut my teeth on as a kid. I looked through the author’s backlist, found several crime-related novels that I hadn’t known he’d written, and ordered a half-dozen.

The Midnight Road begins with tension and a great character. Child Protection Services agent Flynn is driving through a near-blizzard to respond to a call about an endangered child. Being a father and protective of kids, I was seized immediately, wanting to know what was going on and what Flynn was going to do about it. The tension that builds – first with the snowstorm, then with the creepiness of the mansion – is palpable. I grew more tense with every page, then things got totally bizarre when Flynn discovers a guy in an iron-barred cage down in the basement.

I was blown away by how quickly and weirdly the violence escalated. The mother menaced Flynn at gunpoint, ended up shooting her husband, and Flynn made an escape with the guy in the cage and the little girl. Minutes later, after a frantic chase along snow-slick roads that ends up with Flynn dying – yep, dying — for twenty-eight minutes while submerged in a lake.

That would normally be the end of a movie, with the hero waking in a hospital so viewers would know that everything is going to end happily ever after. Piccirilli doesn’t go that route. This is the Midnight Road, after all, and it’s as creepy as any back road that ever wound through Stephen King’s imaginary Maine. Things just get weirder.

With all the media attention the case gets because of the affluent family, Flynn finds himself labeled as hero and villain. And a killer starts stalking him, choosing to kill people around him.

Flynn is a deeply disturbed man even before the weirdness kicks in. Even before he starts talking to the ghost of the dog that drowned with him. His brother committed suicide in the car that Flynn insists on restoring yet again, a macabre tie to the only family he really cared about.

Piccirilli digs into his character and unearths a lot of human frailty that I recognized and have dealt with myself. I think everyone as. It’s easy to get confused and lost when you’ve been through what Flynn has been through.

The action slows down through the middle of the book, but the need to know more about what was going on and what had happened to bring Flynn to where he was when I first met him kept me turning pages.

Halfway through the book I gave up trying to put it down and settled in for a nice, long ride. Notice that I didn’t mention comfortable. Piccirilli stirs readers up through visceral storytelling, then changes those tools out for solid, emotional jabs. And he laces it all together with the driving need to know what’s going on.

If you haven’t discovered this author, I’d really recommend The Cold Spot or The Midnight Road as good starting points. Piccirilli appears equally at home writing horror, crime, and psychological suspense. Block out some time for this one. Once you start it, I think you’re going to hang with every dark, dangerous curve.

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