The Last Highway by R. J. Ellory

You don’t come across many writers from Birmingham (UK) that write about the Appalachians in the United States but that is what R. J. Ellory has done in this, his latest book. When you think of books set in this neck of the woods and their stereotypes, you think of rural white poverty, rough justice and family bonds binding tightly and this book has them all.

Two brothers have a falling out and never speak to each other again. One is the sheriff in Dade and the other in a neighbouring county. They finally meet because one of them has been murdered and there appear to be no leads and not much investigating going on. But there are also other murders occurring with the dead bodies of young women turning up, all having been bound and drugged and so the Sheriff, Victor Landis, starts to look into them.

The leads go nowhere and Landis goes round and round, thinking that his brother is in someway involved in illegal activities until he starts talking to other police and Sheriffs. No one will say anything outright, it is a just a matter of knocking on doors, talking to people and trying to find the links between the murdered girls. The break links the girls together through a voluntary scheme run by a political party and that takes him to the local treasurer. At this point, it is clear that what he has been told about his brother is not true and he has been told it by the very people who are respnsible for the deaths.

Landis, who discovered he had a niece at the start of looking into his brother’s death, visits her several times and then she is kidnapped and this is when the fact that he represents the law falls apart and violence takes over. In order to find her, he has to meet with the people who have been people trafficking the young women to follow the trail.

This isn’t a book with a big message about the wider world, just a crime novel set in a particular part of America following all the stereotypes of that part of the world and not moving beyond them. The focus is the relationship between the Landis brothers and the denial and things we say to convince ourselves we are right. The book does also illustrate the idea that family ties can be used for good or evil, whether they are generations old or brand new ties.

When I started reading this book, I thought I had read it previously but I hadn’t. It has only just been published but it feels like a longer version of the first story in The Furies by John Connolly. Nothing in the story feels new and in fact elements are clearly signposted – a niece the protaganist starts to care about is kidnapped by the baddies, that Victor’s brother will turn out not to be the hideous character his brother believed him to be and that he will find a few trustworthy people to help him. Worth reading if you can get it in your local library.

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