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Purgatory Road by Samuel Parker
Reviewed by Joseph Borden

In Purgatory Road (Revell, $14.99), author Samuel Parker seamlessly melds elements of thriller, suspense, and the supernatural to create a scorcher of a debut novel.

The book primarily follows vacationing couple Jack and Laura, two middle-aged yuppies looking for adventure in the form of a Las Vegas vacation. Nearing the end of their getaway, the couple decides to rent a slick, fast Mustang and take it for a spin in the Mojave desert. Jack drives and drives, up winding hills and down, ever deeper into the desert sands until, suddenly, the car stops dead in its tracks. Mysteriously, the couple’s cell phones have died, too. They are stranded, cut off from the world, and from all help.

That is, until a strange, old hermit arrives in the nick of time and hauls them off to his dilapidated shack nestled in the heart of the Mojave. But it isn’t long before the couple realizes that the man is more than he seems, a force to be reckoned with. And he’s the only thing protecting them from something much, much worse than the desert heat.

When a runaway teen, who has just escaped the clutches of her murderous abductor, arrives at the hermit’s shack, Jack and Laura realize the true gravity of the situation they’re in. They’ve been dragged into an age-old battle of good versus evil, man versus nature, versus himself—and there’s no telling who will come out on top.

Parker’s pacing of this novel is masterful; he piecemeals details of this mysterious desert landscape—and the secrets it holds—into a compelling and cohesive narrative, without being cryptic, and without beating the reader over the head with exposition. Purgatory Road is a page-turner, and the chapters move quickly, with inevitability. This breakneck progression of the novel serves, in a way, as a reflection of the ancient struggle present within the story proper, a war between light and dark that has waged for millennia toward an immutable conclusion.

Parker’s greatest accomplishment in this novel is not the nail-biting suspense that takes form as the protagonists face off against those who wish to do them harm. Rather, it’s the way Parker treats his characters that makes the story truly memorable, and the people within it worth investing in. No one character is a cut-and-dry bad guy or good guy (well, maybe one is). And, while many of the characters feel like familiar literary tropes, they’re each nuanced in ways that humanize them. These characters, unlike many in works of similar genres, have a sincerity about them that sharply contrasts with the surreal otherworldliness of the desert—which really helps to drive the story home and lend it an immediacy that it might otherwise be lacking.

Samuel Parker has shown himself to be an adept storyteller with an excellent command of the line, and an in-depth understanding of what it means to be human—or at least what it means to explore the human condition. His debut novel Purgatory Road is an exciting addition to the genre, and to the world of literature writ large.

Purgatory Road is set to release January 3, 2017.

Joseph Borden graduated from Tusculum College in December of 2014 with a degree in Creative Writing. Previously, he’s served as Managing Editor for The Tusculum Review and as an advertising specialist for a The Hickman County Times. He spends most of his time reading and writing fiction—his short story “Hell or High Water” was Editor’s Choice for the 2014 edition of Din Magazine. His hobbies include playing guitar, singing, people watching, and riding his motorcycle. He currently lives in Lyles.

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