Deadroads, by Robin Riopelle

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – March 17, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Lutie always wanted a pet ghost—but the devil’s in the details.

The Sarrazins have always stood apart from the rest of their Bayou-born neighbors. Almost as far as they prefer to stand from each other. Blessed—or cursed—with the uncanny ability to see beyond the spectral plane, Aurie has raised his children, Sol, Baz, and Lutie, in the tradition of the traiteur, finding wayward spirits and using his special gift to release them along Deadroads into the afterworld. The family, however, fractured by their clashing egos, drifted apart, scattered high and low across the continent.

But tragedy serves to bring them together. When Aurie, while investigating a series of ghastly (and ghostly) murders, is himself killed by a devil, Sol, EMT by day and traiteur by night, Baz, a traveling musician with a truly spiritual voice, and Lutie, combating her eerie visions with antipsychotics, are thrown headlong into a world of gory sprites, brilliant angels, and nefarious demons—small potatoes compared to reconciling their familial differences.

From the Louisiana swamps to the snowfields of the north and everywhere in between, Deadroads summons you onto a mysterious trail of paranormal proportions.

Thoughts:A complex and broken family. Ghosts, and different ways of dealing with them. Attempts to live a normal life despite being anything but normal. Combine this with a dark and nuanced writing style that reads very much like classic narrative mixed with a healthy dose of stream-of-consciousness, and what you come out with is a novel that is unique and stands out from a lot of urban fantasy and paranormal plots currently seen on the bookshelves today. It’s an understated novel, one that works its subtleties on you and pulls you in slowly, quietly, until you’re too entangled in the story and the brilliantly real characters to even want to pull yourself away.

It’s the characters that make the book come alive most of all. You’ve got Sol, trying to balance his EMT job with his ability and duty to banish ghosts, hard and bitter but still the epitome of the protective big brother. Baz, carefree and an amazing singer, the only one in his family who is incapable of seeing ghosts but instead has a connection to something even more incredible. And Lutie, separated from the male members of her family from a young age, adopted into another family after her mother’s death, able to bind spirits rather than banish them. The siblings haven’t been a family in years, have lived very different lives, and when the circumstances of their father’s death draw them to have to work together, it’s understandably tense and awkward. The narrative from the perspectives of each of the characters is unique, and the aspect of stream-of-consciousness observation that comes into it fits perfectly.

I’ll say this for nothing: Deadroads certainly gave my language skills a workout!  I’m pleased to know that my French skills haven’t slipped as far as I suspected, because while all the French used in this book is appropriate, given the characters and places featured, a lot of the time the only clue to meaning was context. The context was clear the vast majority of the time, however, and  even those without a working (or even semi-working) knowledge of French will still be able to enjoy the story and understand the subtleties of what’s going on, which is exactly the way secondary languages ought to be used in writing. Riopelle walked that fine line quite well.

(There was also some personal amusement at seeing mixed French and English in the same sentence, since here in New Brunswick, that’s not exactly uncommon to hear. The early line, “C’est trop chaud for singing,” made me grin, and the mix reminded me of a phrase an old French teacher mentioned to her class in high school once, overheard on the street; “J’aime ton skirt but je n’aime pas le way qu’il hang.” Parse that if you dare!)

The plot starts off fairly simple, a supernatural murder mystery that slowly draws the family back together. But the combination of all of their talents, Baz’s included, all works to turn things from, “We must destroy the ghost that killed our father” into “We need to stop getting between devils and angels!” Gradually the complexities get piled on, both mundane and supernatural, and we get to see Riopelle’s skill at subtle foreshadowing, too. None of the developments are particularly surprising, didn’t seem to come out of nowhere, but there were things that I didn’t figure out until the characters themselves did. The effect was much more impressive than forcing the reader’s perspective with first-person writing, as so many novels do; the fact that it was all written third-person but still close enough to make me feel like I was right in the thick of it myself was a real testament to the author’s abilities!

Robin Riopelle has been added to my personal list of authors to keep an eye on, because between her writing style and her ability to weave a good, dark, subtle story, I’m pretty much guaranteed some creepy entertainment. If you’re in the mood for a good horror/urban fantasy blend, then Deadroads is the novel you should be reaching for.

(Received for review from the author.)

GUEST POST and GIVEAWAY: The Ghosts Haunting Deadroads: Nomads, or Exiles?, by Robin Riopelle

Robin Riopelle was kind enough to write a gorgeous guest post for Bibliotropic that goes into more detail about the ghosts and nomads in her novel, Deadroads (which I just started reading today and am enjoying so far). Definitely an interesting post, and thanks, Robin, for writing it!

Early on in my debut novel, Deadroads, a mother is killed in a car accident and Sol Sarrazin, paramedic and Cajun traiteur, rushes her little girl to the hospital.  He hasn’t even had time to clean his rig before the girl’s ghost appears, and he makes a deadroad, opens a path for her, from our world to the next. To take her back to her mother. To take her home.

The idea of home—and why we desire it or reject it—plays big throughout Deadroads. Of the wanderers who find themselves on the road, two particular groups fascinate me, two bands of travelers that look similar at first, but who are, in fact, totally different: rootless nomads, and uprooted exiles.

Nomads take their home with them, or utterly reject the idea of home as a place. Exiles, on the other hand, have been put on the road unwillingly. For them, home has been taken from them. Same planet, different worlds.

As a way of being, both figure in Deadroads, particularly within my central characters, and in the ghosts, demons, and angels that metaphorically and actually haunt them.

deadroads  But let’s back up a bit. How did these ideas come together to make my family-drama-disguised-as-a-ghost-story? A number of years ago, I read the fantastic American Nomads by Richard Grant. It covers the yearning many people have had historically to leave “civilization” behind—to reject the known for the unknown. Some were looking for riches and adventure. Others had a solitary bent, were looking to escape something, were seeking solitude. Each chapter introduced a different group: mountain men, truckers, and carny workers. But most especially, rail riders.

The rail riders of the 1930s totally captured my imagination: why does someone leave, what is the call of the rail? The lure of the open prairie, dissected with lines of iron that followed the trails of nomadic aboriginal peoples, led me to set most of my story in Nebraska. The whistle of a train, the speed and ferocity of locomotion, the solitary skies and lands seemed so different from the secretive and changing topography of rural Louisiana, where the family had come from.

In Nebraska, Sol and his siblings hunt down a demon that is killing people up and down the rail lines. The demon’s ghostly henchman was formerly a railroad cop who hated rail riders, and mercilessly beat them to death. What the ghost really hates is that some people—nomads, hobos, rail riders—can leave. Some people can. They just do. They leave.

But most importantly, they leave people behind.

So, yes, hold the idea of nomad in your head while we think about exiles. Our histories are filled with them, the diaspora of the Jews, the Roma people, countless First Nations forced from their ancestral lands. For me, the story of the Acadian expulsion had hummed under the surface of my obscure family history. The expulsion—le grand dérangement—makes a good story, one that Henry Longfellow exploited to full dramatic effect in his epic poem, Evangeline.

In a nutshell: when the British won concessions from the French before and during the Seven Years War (a.k.a the French and Indian War), one of their new territories was Acadie, a distinct area of what is now Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Mistrustful of the French inhabitants, the British dispersed them, put them on ships, chased them out, took over the farmlands the Acadians had carved out of the salt marshes along the Bay of Fundy. One large group sought refuge in French Louisiana, and their descendants are now known as Cajuns.

End of history lesson. I wondered what connection still existed between Acadia and Louisiana, what family ties still bound. Where home was, if it was traceable, like veins under the skin. Can exiles truly ever go home?

Despite his reluctance to embrace either his Cajun or Acadian heritage, Sol appears grounded, dependable, especially in contrast to his feckless brother Baz. Deep down, though, he has resisted putting down roots anywhere—after all, he hasn’t changed the address on his driver’s license, even though he’s been living with his girlfriend for close to two years. Is he a nomad, or an exile, or something else? Part of his story is working that out.

The characters of Deadroads are exiles and nomads—both on the road, and looking over their shoulder at what’s been left in the rear-view mirror. The ghosts that Sol takes care of are on their way to someplace new: as the minister Henry Ward Beecher once said, “On this side of the grave we are exiles, on that, citizens; on this side, orphans, on that children.”

But of the living characters that populate Deadroads, Sol alone recognizes the nomads’ ceaseless movement for what it is, a way of avoiding hard truths. Eventually and finally, he longs for a place to be home, and this quest defines him.

robinriopelleBorn in Ottawa and raised on Canada’s west coast, Robin Riopelle’s life has been marked by adoption, separation, and reunion. Like many of her characters, she has a muddy past and a foot in (at least) two different worlds. Robin Riopelle is the author’s birthname. She currently lives on the border between French and English Canada with her criminologist husband, two seemingly delightful children, and an obstreperous spaniel. She is a great supporter of the Oxford comma. She can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.

And now thanks to Robin’s generosity, I have a giveaway to announce! She’s kindly donating a copy of her novel, Deadroads, to a lucky winner here!


~ Open Internationally!
~ 1 entry per person
~ Just leave a comment on this post to enter
~ Contest closes at 11:59 PM, PST, on Sunday July 6, 2014. The winner will be announced on Monday, July 7.

Many thanks to Robin Riopelle for writing this amazing post and for providing a copy of her novel to give away!