Saturday, May 11, 2024

The 1970s Come Alive in the Highly Entertaining--Now Award-Nominated--Lowdown Road

Scott D. Parker

(In honor of its Anthony Award nomination for Best Paperback Novel, I'd like to remind everyone just how much fun Scott Von Doviak's book is. Here is the full list of all the nominations.)

Look at that cover. Hard Case Crime might be the single publisher in this century who remembers how great painted covers used to be. This cover looks like a long-lost book you’d have found on the paperback spinner rack at the 7-Eleven in 1975 as you clutched a Slurpee in your hand, your favorite hero painted on the white, plastic cup. Or its the novelization to a 1970s movie you’d see at the drive-in.

The cover was pretty much all I needed to see to know this was a book I wanted to read. The plot was just icing on the cake. Let me see if I can boil it down for you.

Chuck and Dean are cousins. It’s August 1974. Dean operates a taco truck in San Marcos, Texas, for Antoine, the local boss who has a flourishing business selling weed. Chuck is less than six months out of prison when he “borrows” his cousin’s car and picks up a lady in a bar. She’s married to a local deputy who pulls them over for speeding. She shoots her husband, Chuck shoots her, and ditches the car. Now they have to get out of town.

But not before they hatch a plan: why not steal Antoine’s stash, valued at $1 million, drive it all the way to Idaho where Evel Knievel is set to jump the Snake River Canyon in his rocket cycle? I mean, that’s exactly what I’d do in their situation, right? What could possibly be the the problem?

Well, the sheriff is out to get the cousins. The more he has to travel, the angrier he gets and the more likely he won’t be satisfied just to arrest them. Then there’s Antoine. He’s majorly pissed at the theft and vows to hunt down Chuck and Dean, gets back what’s his, and make the boys pay for their misdeeds.

The chase is on.

I remember the Knievel jump but can’t remember if I saw it on Wide World of Sports during the actual weekend—49 years ago this month—but that was a nice moment at which to set this tale. In fact, in a bit of serendipitous timing, I listened to this audiobook during the actual anniversary weekend.

This book promised a fun time and man did it deliver. Narrator L. J. Ganser gives author Von Doviak’s words an little extra vibrancy, almost as if the story was being told a few years after the fact by a guy who saw it all happen. All the little things that bring the 1970s to life are here: the new book called Jaws, 8-track tapes, music cues, CB radios, Lone Star Beer, as well a peek into the culture of the era.

Von Doviak makes an interesting choice in how he ends this book. At first, it took me a little by surprise, but then I realized what he did and I thoroughly got it. And loved it. It’s a little inspired by a very famous movie released twenty years after the events of this book. (How’s that for cryptic?)

When Hard Case Crime started, they promised the return of old, out-of-print books that haven’t seen the light of day in decades. The newly written titles are the modern equivalent to those wonderful old books you could carry to the DMV in your back pocket and read when the line was too long.

Lowdown Road is exactly in that latter category. It is one of the most fun books I’ve read this year. If you lived through this time or just want a peek into life on the road during the late summer of 1974, this is book to get.

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