Review of Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens
Stevens offers a bad guy who's easy to despise in this mystery with great passages about surviving in the wild. Characters' careless behaviors in the face of known danger frustrated me for much of the book.
Chevy Stevens's Dark Roads is set in the wilderness and rugged terrain of British Columbia, along a highway where unsuspecting women traveling alone go missing from time to time--yet a predator never ends up being brought to justice.
Teen Hailey McBride learned from her father how to be self-sufficient--to hunt, to camp, to stay tough, and to never drive Cold Creek Highway by herself. Now that he's gone, she's grieving--and she's at the mercy of Vaughn, her aunt's controlling husband, a police officer on a power trip.
When she suspects that Vaughn is paying too much attention to her, Hailey decides to lay the groundwork for running away and to disappear into the wild. When she's eighteen she hopes to emerge, out from under others' thumbs.
What Hailey doesn't anticipate is that the community will assume she's been taken by the highway killer, which they do. But now she's stuck. She can't return to her aunt's, and for a time the book is satisfyingly focused on her survival skills and her bonding with a young dog while she determines her next move. This section was my favorite part of the book.
Meanwhile, Beth Chevalier arrives in Cold Creek to try to figure out what happened to her sister Amber, who vanished in the area. Beth becomes a potential target herself--while also inadvertently drawing attention to the truth about Hailey's disappearance.
I quickly became frustrated with Beth's careless, repeated, willfully risky behavior in what she clearly knows--after the loss of her sister--to be a potentially deadly situation. She's grieving and coping with substance abuse issues, but it was difficult watching her repeatedly lose control of her faculties and surrender her ability to protect herself when she knows how crucial it is to do so.
The bad guys in Dark Roads feel full-bore evil and overwhelmingly pervasive; in one case we see little evidence of redeeming qualities, which makes it feel too easy to wholeheartedly despise the character at hand (in another case, the matter involves more gray areas). The horrific abuses of power, toxic masculinity, and the disturbing, predatory serial killing in the book may make you angry enough to want to spit nails, which is how I felt.
In Dark Roads, characters figure out their places in the world, find internal strength when they need it, and learn to start to let go of what's weighing them down. Some elements felt too easy--certain characters' vulnerabilities seem destined to lead to tragedy and made me want to shout warnings I felt they shouldn't need--but the book was atmospheric, and the characters' friendship and loyalty (and, sometimes, selfishness) that Stevens explores kept me engaged.
Stevens's fictional Cold Creek Highway setting is based on the real-life "Highway of Tears" in British Columbia, where women have gone missing since the 1970s, and where a disproportionate number of Indigenous women have been abducted. Many of these missing-person cases remain tragically unsolved.
I received a prepublication digital copy of this title courtesy of St. Martin's Press and NetGalley.
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Chevy Stevens's first novel was Still Missing.
I found some commonalities between Dark Roads and another suspenseful read I recently read and was engrossed in, Wendy Walker's Don't Look for Me, especially regarding the villains of both stories.