New Orleans, 1963. Frank Guidry is living an amoral, reckless, no-strings-attached life as a loyal lieutenant to Carlos Marcello, the infamous New Orleans mob boss. Frank has put his life on the line for Marcello more times than he can count, and has climbed the ranks to become one of Marcello’s most trusted men.
But everything changes on November 22nd, 1963. Frank is in his apartment when he hears the television newsreader announce that President Kennedy has been killed in Dallas, and as the newsreader explains that the assassination happened at a place called Dealey Plaza, Frank feels a sense of creeping dread. One week ago at Marcello’s request, he’d dropped off a sky-blue getaway car in the centre of Dallas – right near Dealey Plaza itself.
Frank had thought nothing of it at the time, assuming a dark future for some unlucky soul, but this is in an entirely different league. Frank knows how much Marcello despises the Kennedy brothers, and if he’s not mistaken, he’s just become an accomplice in the assassination of the President. Not only that, he’s become a loose end that he knows Marcello will want tied up – permanently.
Fearing for his life, Frank takes on a new identity and hits the road, and when he stumbles across a young mother and her two daughters stranded by their broken-down car, he sees a chance to adopt an even more cunning disguise. Frank quickly attaches himself to the little group, who are travelling to California, and to outsiders, he and the girls look just like a family. What better way for Frank to hide from the hitman on his trail?
But the best-laid plans often go awry, and Frank finds himself not only falling into the rhythms of his new traveling companions, but also falling in love with the young mother, Charlotte. Meanwhile, Marcello’s relentless hitman Barone is closing in and soon, Frank is faced with the most difficult decision of his life. Should he continue on with Charlotte and the girls, risking not only his life but theirs as well? Or should he continue his escape without them, and leave behind the woman and children he’s come to love?
Told from the perspectives of Frank, Charlotte and Barone the hitman, Lou Berney’s November Road is a unique and outstanding novel that’s part crime, part thriller and part road trip story. With Barone hot on Frank’s heels for the majority of the book, it’s a heart-pounding and fast-paced read, qualities only enhanced by Berney’s tight prose. Not one word is wasted here.
The characters of November Road are wonderfully complex, and it’s fascinating to watch Frank and Charlotte, in particular, grow over the course of the book. Charlotte finds new strength as she faces challenges on the road, and Frank finds redemption as he grows to care for Charlotte and her daughters.
Berney also does a brilliant job of evoking atmosphere. That blend of cynicism, hope, upheaval and change so particular to the 1960s is captured perfectly in the novel, and as Frank, Charlotte and the girls make their way across America, Berney’s descriptions of the flashy cities, one-horse towns and great wide plains they encounter bring the country to compelling and captivating life.
Suspenseful, atmospheric and refreshingly different, we can’t recommend November Road enough.
About the author:
Lou Berney is the author of two previous novels, Whiplash River, nominated for an Edgar Award, and Gutshot Straight, nominated for a Barry Award, as well as the collection The Road to Bobby Joe and Other Stories. A television and film screenwriter, he also teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University.