Book Review: Lowdown Road – Scott Von Doviak

Hixploitation! Scott Von Doviak is a genre man par excellence. What he did for multigenerational heist mysteries in Charlesgate Confidential he does for murderous road movies in Lowdown Road. This is the sort of book designed to be read in a day, if not a single sitting. It’s Hard Case Crime, so you know you’re there to, at the very least, bask in the cover.

Texas, 1974. Cousins Chuck and Dean Melville have a taco truck full of marijuana, a prospective buyer in Idaho, and a corrupt sheriff, a drug kingpin, and a swarm of pissed off bikers in hot pursuit. If they can just find Evel Knievel’s stage manager, life will be sweet.

Von Doviak writes his multiple thread story at breakneck speed, giving the Melville boys enough incident and misadventure to fuel several books, while also tracking Sheriff Giddings’ gradual descent into madness and supplier Antoine’s own quest for meaning and remuneration. No individual scenario is unbelievable, but cumulatively Lowdown Road becomes an insane collection of events that would make a great series of set pieces that are only ever very thinly connected.

Von Doviak’s feverish invention means that Lowdown Road only ever gets a few seconds to breathe, and most of that breathing is still of illegal air. There are moments that will surprise, like the one page that makes Sheriff Giddings seem sympathetic for a minute before he’s completely written off as a terror for the rest of the book, and there’s a depth to Antoine that is somehow not undercut by him receiving a paragraph that, in its entirety, reads “it was karate time”.

Even if Chuck and Dean are written in the broadest way possible – inveterate criminal Chuck, indiscriminate ladies’ man Dean – they present a good duo, albeit one a little trigger happy and prone to fussing and feuding. It’s unclear how many movies they’ve borrowed from along the way, but it’s impossible not to be on their side even when it contradicts the stated goals of Antoine, himself more a secondary protagonist than antagonist.

Endlessly propulsive, Lowdown Road reads like a race across a baking road under an infinite expanse of cloudless sky. Eventually, and inevitably, it’s choked by smoke and bullets, but unlike Evel Knievel it never crashes and burns. An excellent outing in pure pulp, Lowdown Road is a sincere tribute to a bygone era and a sincerely fun read.

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