Deadroads by Robin RiopelleDeadroads: a novel of supernatural suspense by Robin Riopelle
Published by Night Shade Books on April 15th, 2014
Genres: Supernatural
Pages: 313
Format: Paperback
Source: Ottawa Library

The Sarrazins have always stood apart from the rest of their Bayou-born neighbors. Almost as far as they prefer to stand from each other. Blessed—or cursed—with the uncanny ability to see beyond the spectral plane, Aurie has raised his children, Sol, Baz, and Lutie, in the tradition of the traiteur, finding wayward spirits and using his special gift to release them along Deadroads into the afterworld. The family, however, fractured by their clashing egos, drifted apart, scattered high and low across the continent.

But tragedy serves to bring them together. When Aurie, while investigating a series of ghastly (and ghostly) murders, is himself killed by a devil, Sol, EMT by day and traiteur by night, Baz, a traveling musician with a truly spiritual voice, and Lutie, combating her eerie visions with antipsychotics, are thrown headlong into a world of gory sprites, brilliant angels, and nefarious demons—small potatoes compared to reconciling their familial differences.

From the Louisiana swamps to the snowfields of the north and everywhere in between, Deadroads summons you onto a mysterious trail of paranormal proportions.

Like most couples, the Sarrazins have a few disagreements. As rarely seen though, they mainly argue about ghosts: Aurie, the father, sends ghost on their way to whatever is next, whereas his wife Mireille believes ghosts make good pets. Unfortunately, the conflict will escalate into the sudden departure of the mother and result in the separation of their three children.

Fast-forward thirteen years later: Aurie is found dead by a railroad, skull cracked open, hand frozen in a gesture that his eldest son, Sol, will interpret as an attempted incantation. The gruesome murder has a life-changing impact on Sol and his younger brother: while the former sets his mind on reconnecting with his father’s knowledge to make sense of his death, Baz decides to seek out their younger sister so he could share the sad news. One commits himself to a crime investigation, the other dives into the family past.

The investigation certainly draws some originality from the presence of ghosts: the Sarrazins can see ghosts and it is enough to make them look guilty. But actually, Sol has no clue of what he is after. An all too human serial killer or an actual ghost? Or maybe a devil? I found it particularly interesting that although the crime seemed clearly related to ghosts in some ways, Sol has no evidence of who/what he’s facing for a long time in the book. We slowly discover about “le p’tit diable” – as Sol calls him – as we explore the world of the drifters around the railroad and gather information from the fearful inhabitants of the area. Later, it gets even more interesting when the murderer turns to the children, bringing a sense of danger and urgency that is really exciting!

However, the most interesting aspect of Deadroads is the family story. In 1992, the three children were split between mother and father. Cut off from each other, they grew up convinced that the other were happier. Both side were persuaded that the missing parent was evil. As a result, when Sol, Baz and Lutie finally meet, they hold a lot of prejudices and resentment towards one another, even though they are curious to get acquainted and fill in the blanks from their family history. They also have one major issue in common: they suffer from seeing ghosts, legacy of their parents, the poisoned chalice that unites them despite themselves.

“There was only one reason to gather ghosts and lull them into a dream state: so you could catch one.
Mireille had had hers, tucked inside, only let out when her mother had loosened the bindings that kept it there. A kept ghost was enormously helpful in telling the fortunes of others, the very best of the psychics and fortunetellers always had one, but Lutie knew it was dangerous, her mother told her that repeatedly. It was why they had left Papa and the boys, because Aurie wouldn’t have approved.”

It’s quite pleasant that Deadroads solely focuses on the siblings. It becomes a fascinating portrait of how a family legacy can marginalize you. The separation made the siblings feel alone, different and hopeless, and the novel shows how reconnecting with your kin is a way to heal. Sol and Lutie also carry on their parents’ disagreement about how to deal with ghosts and both have to reflect on this all over again. I really enjoyed the idea that to overcome danger as a group, the siblings would overcome their parents’ discord.

Besides, I truly loved how the investigation and the reconnection fed and helped one another. For more than a decade, Sol and Baz lived together, their personality shaped to get on the best they could, like an old couple. Lutie comes and shatters this fragile balance: she challenges Sol’s authority and encourages Baz to speak for himself. She doesn’t follow orders and she takes initiatives. Actually, I found that Sol and Lutie looked like each other very much and it made me smile to see them puzzled at this. Doesn’t it happen in every family? It was great to see them slowly discover the hopes, fears and weaknesses behind the façade of the others.

Altogether, I fell in love with the Sarrazins. The investigation is surely engaging but the story of the siblings took all my interest: it was just so moving and Sol, Baz and Lutie felt really authentic (ghosts set aside). I loved reading about the siblings reuniting and healing themselves together, and how they found a way to do better and go further than their parents did, all the while carrying on the family legacy.