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Murder Road


Murder Road

Simone St. James, the bestselling author of such works as THE BOOK OF COLD CASES and THE SUN DOWN MOTEL, returns with her trademark blend of thriller and horror. MURDER ROAD is a decades-old ghost story set in a deserted town featuring an unlucky couple who just might be the key to ending it.

As Eddie Carter drives their beat-up Pontiac down the interstate on the way to the Five Pines Resort on the shore of Lake Michigan, April cannot believe her luck. Not only has she escaped the transient, terrified years of her youth, she has just married the most tender, compassionate man she has ever met --- and his Army body doesn’t hurt, either. The two began dating and got married in the same year, but neither would define their romance as a whirlwind. Between April’s traumatic past and Eddie’s own brushes with PTSD from his time in Afghanistan, their bond is no less love-filled but is much calmer than your average shotgun wedding.

"Simone St. James has an innate talent for blending genres without doing a disservice to either, and that is on perfect display in MURDER ROAD."

The two know how to react effectively and efficiently, and despite their traumas, their insides are still waters. So when they make a few errant turns and end up on the wrong highway, it’s no big deal. When they see a strange, glowing light in the woods, it just might be a local or a freak trick of the light. And when they see what they first believe to be a small man, and then a young woman, walking on the side of the desolate, deserted highway, they assume she just had one too many at the local watering hole. Aware of the dangers that young women face when alone, they agree to pull over and ask if she needs help, or at least a lift somewhere.

She’s not drunk, but she’s not all there either. She wears an oversized jacket, and she seems confused but not stupid. When she reluctantly gets in their car, she tells them that her name is Rhonda Jean and she needs to go to a hospital. April realizes too late that the jacket is hiding a lot of blood. But Rhonda’s next reveal is the most terrifying: “I’m sorry,” she says. “He’s coming.”

Almost immediately, headlights flash through their rear window, and a big, imposing black truck begins to approach their vehicle way too fast. Eddie quickly taps into his military training and goes silent, his focus only on speeding toward the nearest anything, even as the truck matches his speed and every turn point for point. Through sheer luck, the unlikely trio turns onto a back road and loses the truck, but their pursuer is the least of their worries. Eddie barely turns into the hospital parking lot before he and April realize two things: Rhonda is not going to survive her wounds, and they have just deposited a dying woman they don’t know at the hospital, their car and their clothing all drenched in her blood. It’s not a good look, and the local detectives are quick to call them on it.

But this isn’t your average mystery. Shortly after the local force begins to question April and Eddie, a menacing state police officer arrives, telling the town’s police to back off and that this is officially a state police issue now. It’s alarming, to say the least, but it also makes April and Eddie curious: Why have the state police taken such an interest, and why do they seem dead-set on pinning Rhonda’s death on them? Oh, and there’s the one thing that they aren’t telling police, local or state. When the black truck passed them, Eddie saw a teenage girl in the truck bed, dirty and disheveled and screaming for help.

So, as the police zero in on the newlyweds, April and Eddie embark on their own investigation --- not just into Rhonda or the truck, but also into the road where they first encountered her: Atticus Line. As locals are quick to inform them, this is not the first life that Atticus Line has taken; the deaths on the same stretch of road go back nearly 30 years.

This leads April and Eddie to a homemade hostel for transient youth, to teenage girls who have been tracking the deaths on the road for longer than they even knew it existed, and even to the history of the police force. Each new clue and possible line of investigation dovetails into one disappearance and legend: that of the Lost Girl, Atticus Line’s first victim, and more than likely the ghostly teenage girl Eddie saw screaming from the back of the truck. But even though deaths have been occurring on and off for years, April and Eddie are the only ones to ever discover a murder midway, and the only ones to have seen the Lost Girl and lived to tell the tale. It is obvious that something led them to Atticus Line, and they are powerless to ignore the clues that something dark has a hold on the deserted town’s desolate road. But why did it choose them?

Simone St. James has an innate talent for blending genres without doing a disservice to either, and that is on perfect display in MURDER ROAD. While the supernatural element is apparent early on, so too is the mystery and the obvious failings of the local and state police forces to figure it out. This combination is not just compelling, it's downright propulsive. St. James can occasionally dwell on her characters’ extraneous backstories for a bit too long, but the pull of the classic mystery storyline and the ghoulish supernatural keeps the pacing fast and tight.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on March 29, 2024

Murder Road
by Simone St. James