Tony Ray is a legendary crime boss. He was famously acquitted of a charge of counterfeiting in the 1980s &, although he’s now an old man living in a nursing home, his name has not been forgotten. His son, Joe, seemed to be following in his father’s footsteps until he was murdered, shot in the showroom of the family’s secondhand car dealership. Joe’s brother, John, witnessed the murder. John is the straight one of the family. Head boy at school, university, qualified in accountancy, then years living in Spain, John had just returned to Leeds when Joe was murdered. Now, two years later, he’s taken over the dealership. He’s living in a studio flat created from the conversion of his old high school. The Honours board hangs on his wall with his name in the list of Head Boys. His girlfriend, Denise Danson, is a police detective, although her superior officers aren’t pleased that she’s going out with a member of the Ray family. John’s life couldn’t be more of a contrast with that of his family.
John has just won an award as Dealership of the Year (Yorkshire Region) . The morning after the award ceremony, Denise is called out to the scene of a murder. A young woman has been found in the boot of a car. A car that John had bought days before. A car that his salesman & friend, Freddy Metcalfe, has been seen driving. John can’t get in touch with Freddy, who has disappeared. And then, the police find $50 000 in counterfeit money hidden in the car. Counterfeiting was the Ray family business in the old days, along with selling fake perfume & the secondhand car business. The police don’t think it’s a coincidence that the dead girl, Donna Macken, & the funny money, was found in a car belonging to a member of the Ray family. John is in the clear with Denise as his alibi but that doesn’t mean the police won’t try their best to implicate him if they can. When Freddy is found & refuses to talk, it looks like an open & shut case. John decides to find out who the killer is & he finds himself involved in a world that he had hoped to have left behind forever.
Hope Road is a fast-paced, exciting novel. The action takes place over just three days & the author does a great job of filling the reader in on John’s history at the same time as the plot is hurtling forward. Often the victim is forgotten in crime novels, they’re just a convenient plot starter. In this book, Donna is a real character, although we only see her through the eyes of others & a few grainy frames of CCTV footage. A beautiful young woman living with her mother, father long since gone. Involved in drugs & prostitution but planning a way out with Freddy, her protector, friend & lover. She was last seen at a rundown motel in the company of Freddy & two dodgy Ukrainian tractor salesmen. John’s search for the truth leads him into this murky world.
John Ray is an ambiguous character. He seems to be playing straight but there are hints that there’s more going on in his life than the reader knows. The uncertainty about John & his motives certainly kept me on my toes. The minor characters are also intriguing. Connie Garcia, John’s half-step-cousin, is a delightful character. Connie has come over from Spain to work in the dealership & John employs her as a favour to his father & the Spanish relatives he barely knows. Connie transforms the atmosphere with fresh coffee & croissants for the customers &, with her training at the Madrid Business School, keeps meticulous records. Although Connie seems to spend all her time on the phone chatting to her boyfriend, she’s a shrewd young woman & has a few surprises in store for John. Hope Road is the first in a series & I’m really looking forward to reading the next book.
I have to admit that Hope Road probably isn’t the kind of novel I’d pick up if I saw it at work or in a bookshop. The cover & the blurb sounded a little bit too hardboiled for my taste. But, when John Barlow kindly emailed me & offered me an ePub copy, I thought I’d see whether my preconceptions were right or whether I should try stepping out of my comfort zone. I started reading at lunchtime last Tuesday & it was a real struggle to close down the e-reader & get back to work. I was immediately drawn in to the story & John is an intriguing character, I wanted to know more. How did someone with his family background end up as an award-winning car dealer & in a relationship with a police detective? Hope Road is written in present tense & I don’t usually like that but, in this case, it suits the story & adds to the urgency of the plot & the breakneck pace. I very soon forgot what tense it was in. There’s also a couple of very violent scenes but I read those very quickly!
John Barlow is an experienced writer with several other books published in the traditional way with traditional publishers. I especially like the title Everything but the Squeal, a travelogue & memoir about Spain, where John now lives. He’s decided to publish Hope Road independently as an e-book & it’s available at Amazon, The Book Depository & anywhere else that sells e-books. Hope Road is the first of a series of nine novels about the Ray family. I can’t wait for the next book. More information on John & his career can be found at his website.