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November Road


November Road

It doesn’t get any better than this. Seriously. The anticipation for NOVEMBER ROAD by Lou Berney has been as high as for any novel that I can recently recall. I am pleased to report that it does not just measure up to the buzz, it crashes through the ceiling, from its first paragraph or two --- raucous, humorous and just a little bit saucy --- to its bittersweet ending.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy is the mystery of the 20th century. Part of the reason for this has to do with what the history books don’t tell you, but Frank Guidry will. Guidry, one of the book’s prime movers, is a complicated enforcer for New Orleans crime boss Carlos Marcello. He is almost immediately revealed as a cold personality who does not let morality, loyalty or friendship get in the way of self-preservation. When, on a November New Orleans afternoon in 1963, he learns that the President of the United States has been assassinated, it does not take him long to figure out why it happened and the fact that Marcello is behind it. Similarly, when he is almost immediately tasked with flying to Houston to dispose of a Cadillac Eldorado, he quickly puts the pieces of the plot together.

"Beautifully written with unrelenting toughness and possessing a pitch-perfect plot, the novel is part Elmore Leonard and part Charles Dickens, but all Lou Berney."

On Marcello’s orders, Guidry had left the Caddy near Dealey Plaza just a week or two before. Guidry suspects that the real assassin has driven the vehicle to Houston, where he will be eliminated, and that Guidry himself will be silenced after taking care of the car. Of course, he is correct, and begins a long journey west on Route 66 toward Las Vegas, with a cold-blooded and very canny hitman on his trail.

While this is occurring, we meet Charlotte Roy, who is stuck in a dead-end newspaper job and a failing marriage with a less-than-functioning alcoholic. Charlotte, who has dreams of something far, far better and an underdeveloped talent for photography, abruptly packs up her two young daughters and leaves Oklahoma, heading toward California in the hope of staying with a distant aunt with whom she hasn’t had contact in years. It isn’t much of a plan, and when her path and Guidry’s intersect at a mom-and-pop motel off of Route 66, Guidry sees an opportunity to hide in plain sight.

Knowing that Marcello’s hitman and his network across the country are looking for a single male on the run, Guidry uses Charlotte and her daughters as camouflage as he heads toward the lights of Vegas and the one person who can get him out of the country. What neither Guidry nor Charlotte expects, though, is that they will become truly involved with each other, a state of affairs that puts Charlotte and her daughters in terrible danger and distracts Guidry from his only chance of survival. Matters come to an unexpected climax --- not once, but twice --- with a set of results that linger long after the story is finished. 

I predict that you will not forget NOVEMBER ROAD any time soon. Informed in part by Berney’s own background, it is presented as fiction but is truer than many books you will read this year. Beautifully written with unrelenting toughness and possessing a pitch-perfect plot, the novel is part Elmore Leonard and part Charles Dickens, but all Lou Berney. I can’t tell you any more, other than what I said at the beginning of this review: It doesn’t get any better than this.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 12, 2018

November Road
by Lou Berney