Wednesday, 10 April 2019


It's November 1963, and in Dallas President Kennedy has just been shot. In New Orleans, Frank Guidry is thinking about a trip he made the other day, dropping off a clean Cadillac to a garage just a couple of blocks from Dealey Plaza. Guidry works for Carlos Marcello, the Godfather of the New Orleans mafia, and a confirmed Kennedy-hater. He's Rat Pack sharp and Sinatra smooth. And now Marcello's assistant, Seraphine, wants him to deliver another car, this time to Houston. It's not the kind of job Guidry, a smooth-talker who can get things done, would usually do, and he wonders if the boss isn't starting to take care of loose ends. Because it doesn't take a wise guy to figure out what has just gone down in Dallas, and who was involved. So what he fears is just what happens at the Rice hotel in Houston, but Guidry, sharp as ever, is just a step ahead, and now he's on the run, headed for Las Vegas, where his only possible help might be found.

In a small town in Oklahoma, Charlotte Dooley has a boring Sixties American life, which would be alright were she not married to a drunk. She works for the local photographer, and would like to do more, but she has two kids and a dog, and though her husband doesn't mistreat her or the kids, their common ground has disappeared, and on the Sunday Jack Ruby kills Lee Oswald, when her husband goes off on the kind of errand that lasts until he's drunk his fill, Charlotte puts her daughters and dog into the car, and heads west, aiming for the Los Angeles home of an aunt she hasn't seen in years.

And after another killer botched the hit on Guidry, Marcello has put his top button, Paul Barone, onto Guidry's trail, once he's eliminated the assassin who failed. 

Three people headed West, and their inevitable convergence, is the core of November Road, and its a core which Lou Berney orchestrates well and writes even better. Berney gets the pace and the feel of Sixties paperback originals, those raw, well-written Gold Medal novels by the likes of John D MacDonald, except there's a kind of balance between the characters, and an awareness that our contemporary perspective can provide. Thus we see that, although Guidry lives within the strict rules of his business, where everyone is out to protect themselves and will always act in their own best interest, but where you have to be sharp enough to know the angles and what that best interest is, Charlotte is in a similar world, where most of the decisions have been made for her, and although the payback is not so severe, straying from them is not easy.

Berney writes this with a flow that keeps you entrenched in the drama, in the choices, in the forks in the road, the way the best road fiction works. He also writes with beautiful touch. “Why,' Ed said, 'what have we here' seems a simple line, but ending a chapter as it does it is so full of portent I sat and stared at it for a while. As I did at the end of the story, which is moving and sad, but not sentimental. I had added three words, in my mind, to the penultimate line, then realised I was being too literal, and the words were already there, unsaid. It doesn't really matter what those words are (I don't want to drop a spoiler in) but the fact that the scene had been written with such accuracy and grace that those words were unncessary. You'll see when you read it, as you really ought to.

November Road by Lou Berney
Harper Collins, £8.99, ISBN 9780008309336

note: this review will also appear at Crime Time (

No comments :