Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens
Pub Date: August 3, 2021
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)
Summary: The Cold Creek Highway stretches close to five hundred miles through British Columbia’s rugged wilderness to the west coast. Isolated and vast, it has become a prime hunting ground for predators. For decades, young women traveling the road have gone missing. Motorists and hitchhikers, those passing through or living in one of the small towns scattered along the region, have fallen prey time and again. And no killer or abductor who has stalked the highway has ever been brought to justice.
Hailey McBride calls Cold Creek home. Her father taught her to respect nature, how to live and survive off the land, and to never travel the highway alone. Now he’s gone, leaving her a teenage orphan in the care of her aunt whose police officer husband uses his badge as a means to bully and control Hailey. Overwhelmed by grief and forbidden to work, socialize, or date, Hailey vanishes into the mountainous terrain, hoping everyone will believe she’s left town. Rumors spread that she was taken by the highway killer—who’s claimed another victim over the summer.
One year later, Beth Chevalier arrives in Cold Creek, where her sister Amber lived—and where she was murdered. Estranged from her parents and seeking closure, Beth takes a waitressing job at the local diner, just as Amber did, desperate to understand what happened to her and why. But Beth’s search for answers puts a target on her back—and threatens to reveal the truth behind Hailey’s disappearance…
There is a miles-long stretch of Canadian wilderness known as the Highway of Tears where over 80 women, many of whom were Indigenous/First Nations, have been brutally murdered. Since the 1970s these killings have occurred and yet the cases remain unsolved to this day. Chevy Stevens, a Canadian herself, grew up knowing never to hitchhike, never to wander alone, and it’s this highway that inspired her new novel, Dark Roads.
For Hailey McBride, Cold Creek is home, it’s all she’s ever known. After her mother passed away when Hailey was five, she became her father’s shadow – literally in some cases, as she learned everything about the unforgiving land around them. She learned how to repair bike chains, pick locks, hunt and fish and live off the land – but a dangerous curve at high speeds left her an orphan at 16. Now she’s living with her aunt and little cousin…and her aunt’s new husband, Sherriff Vaughn.
A summer romance with a new girl in town ends in tragedy and Hailey disappears, vanishes into the mountains. Though Hailey hopes the town – namely, her uncle – come to the conclusion she’s run off, circumstances leave the Cold Creek residents to believe instead that the highway killer claimed another victim.
The following year, another new girl arrives: Beth, the older sister of Amber, Hailey’s first love. Having given up pursuing a law degree, Beth is now seeking answers and closure, following in her little sister’s footsteps as she searches for the truth about what happened the previous summer. But the closer Beth gets, the more her life is in danger.
I’m going to be up-front here: having had a few novels under my belt prior to Dark Roads, I reached the conclusion that Chevy’s books are really hit-or-miss for me. My introduction to her work – pre-blogging! – was such a disappointment that I swore off any other books. Thankfully I didn’t listen to myself, because my next few reads were fantastic thrillers that I wholeheartedly enjoyed! So when I learned she was releasing a new novel, and one inspired by such a horrific event, I knew I would be reading it. And you know what? Going in, I thought I had another winner: the opening is told through the eyes of the victims and instantly set the tone for what (I had hoped) was to come.
Unfortunately, those moments of brilliance were few and far between. While this wasn’t necessarily an issue for me – I enjoy YA thrillers – Dark Roads read very much like a YA novel, rather than Adult, due to Hailey’s POV. Even when Beth appears, though at 21 she’s not much older. Not a problem for me, but I’m sure other reads would be put off by the younger feel. Instead my issue was with Vaughn. I get it, he’s bad. A creep. He pervs on girls and takes photos in various states of undress, has hidden cameras placed throughout his house and other areas in the town; he has a serious grudge with one of the town boys for reasons I never understood. It’s clear Dark Roads wants the reader to view Vaughn as a villain – and he is, don’t get me wrong, but he’s so over-the-top I was surprised he was never described with a twirly little mustache. He views himself as the capital L Law in Cold Creek and heaven help anyone who goes against his word. He throws around his authority, makes BS arrests, pulls punches (literally), and gets away with it because he can. He needed to dial it back SEVERAL notches; I don’t think I read a single scene with him where I wasn’t rolling my eyes.
The main chunk of the novel was more survivalist tale than murder mystery but it’s yet another part of the story that didn’t add up. Yes, Hailey grew up learning from her father, but all of Cold Creek grew up in those mountains. Hunting and fishing is a religion to that town. It didn’t make sense that she was able to camp out in the woods for an entire year without being found. There’s actually a photo of her cabin pinned up in the local restaurant! Beth, a city girl, manages to print out some maps and stumble upon Hailey’s campsite, but men who have lived their entire lives in that town couldn’t?
My biggest gripe though, was the big reveal that wasn’t. Much like the real-life Highway of Tears, the murders in Dark Roads have been going on for decades. Yep once the truth comes out..? One murder was explained and that was it, the rest – numerous women brutally killed – were all but forgotten by the author. Not by this reader, though. I wanted answers, I wanted an explanation. I wanted something, anything, more than a quick throwaway line about drug smuggling. Talk about a letdown.
Although Dark Roads was an extremely readable book – and will make a great addition to final, lazy days at the beach – I was left with more questions than answers. The big bad couldn’t have been more cartoony and the reveal was nothing but a quick wave of the author’s hand, don’t look too closely or you’ll see all the holes poking through the plot. That said, while the majority of the book didn’t quite do it for me, the prologue and epilogue were both beautifully written and I wish the entire novel had been THAT instead. Also, the dog makes it to the end of the book alive. I was extremely nervous when Wolf was introduced – this book is about a decades-long hunt for a ruthless serial killer after all – and none of the early reviews I read mentioned him. But I’m please to say Wolf survives.