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.