Written by Stephen Jared — Eddie Howard is almost 50 years old. He has worked in the same bank and lived in the same house in Barstow, California, his entire adult life. It is the early 1950s and Eddie spends his days working and his nights and weekends sneaking off to the movies to see actors like Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, and Roger Stack on the big screen in flickering forms more vivid than reality. But Eddie’s life changes when a woman walks into the bank where he works with a head full of curls like yellow icing and curves like Marilyn Monroe. Eddie is snapped out of his complacency and thrust into a visceral and criminal reality with a plot that far exceeds any of the movies he loves.
Need More Road is a strong, punchy, dark tale by Stephen Jared, who previously wrote Ten-a-Week Steale. It’s a fresh and enjoyable example of noir perfect for anyone with any nostalgia for pulp fiction by the likes of Jim Thompson and David Goodis, though it doesn’t quite reach the level set by the masters.
Eddie falls for Mary Rose who is accompanied in Barstow by her father. He befriends them both. When Mary Rose’s dad finds himself in a hard spot because his father, Mary’s grandfather, has died and left a lot of debt in his wake, they both enlist Eddie’s help. Mary Rose and Mr McCoy rope Eddie into a scheme, preying on his interest in Mary Rose, to rip off the bank where Eddie works in order to pay back the debt.
Engaging in crime is way out of character for Eddie, and becomes more than just a way to win Mary Rose’s hear. Eddie, without being conscious of it, uses the act as a way to prove himself as a man and as a way to separate himself from his entire life spent in Barstow.
But everything is not as it seems, and when the robbery is complete Eddie is forced to take to the road with Mary Rose and her father. Eddie’s life becomes one lived on the lam; half-hostage and half-runaway.
As the novel progresses word spreads about the robbery and Eddie is stuck between two dilemmas. First, there is his immediate issue with his traveling companions, Mr McCoy in particular. Second, news from back home reaches them that the robbery has made headlines and that the law is after Eddie and the gang.
The drama of Need More Road is wonderfully evocative of Hitchcock’s plots, 1950s noir, and even of Jim Jarmusch’s 1984 cult classic Stranger Than Paradise. We see a man at once free yet chased by the trap he has freed himself from.
Need More Road packs good surprises that make the pages fly by. This is a road novel as the title suggests and has the feel of breezing through city after city on the run is fun. Jared does rely on telling rather than showing in his writing and at times the narrative can be overly self-conscious. When Eddie thinks about his parents or looks up at the night sky, sometimes, but not always, his wonderings are overly precious. Maybe the author needs to trust us to understand his characters a little more.
In the end, this is a quick and entertaining read, despite its flaws, from a writer evoking the old black and white movies of yesterday. Jared’s book is vivid, alive, and well worth a read.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars