Sometimes a book can really surprise you. I expected Dead Roads to be a fairly straightforward urban fantasy story, with a bit of Cajun flair. What I got was so much more than that.
The story is centered on three siblings: brothers Sol and Baz, and their estranged sister Lutie. Sol, who has followed his father on the path of the traiteur, is investigating suspicious deaths along a railroad line in the Great Plains. We learn that a particularly vengeful ghost is responsible for the deaths, and that only by all three siblings working together will this ghost (and the small demon controlling it) be vanquished.
What follows is a gritty ghost hunt, as the siblings travel along the railways to investigate and battle with the ghost. It must be said that the ghosts of Dead Roads are not what you might expect. They are angry bitter badasses who can easily do physical damage to a person. Closely bound, as a fortune teller might do, they can cause insanity and death. Even proximity to a large number of ghosts can make someone physically ill.
What really makes Dead Roads work so well is the characters. Riopelle creates three strong central characters, and clearly establishes the relationships between them. The reunion of the siblings is at the emotional center of the book. I found this unexpected, and surprisingly moving. While the brothers have grown up together, their sister was taken from them at an early age, and only blurry memories remained.
Dead Roads is a strong assured first novel. Its emotional depth is quite surprising given how you may perceive the book in terms of how it fits in genre. I’m looking forward to reading future efforts by Riopelle.