Robin Riopelle – Deadroads

robinriopelle-deadroadsLutie always wanted a pet ghost—but the devil’s in the details.

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.

Robin Riopelle’s Deadroads was an inordinate amount of fun. There was plenty of creepiness and conflicted emotions and relationship difficulties between the characters, but on finishing the book what remained was the sheer enjoyment I got out of reading the book. Featuring a family of traiteurs – essentially ghost whisperers – the story is built upon its protagonists. They are what make this novel so enjoyable. Deadroads portrays the tension of being of two worlds in several different layers. There’s the obvious one – being able to see ghosts or not – but there is also Lutie’s being suddenly confronted with her birth family, while having been raised in a very different foster family. Lastly there is the difference between the Cajun heritage on their father’s side and the Acadian heritage on their mother’s side. 

The first sibling we meet is the youngest, Lutie. First seen in a flashback in which she exposes her mother’s secret bonding of a ghost, after which her mother takes her and leaves her husband and sons behind, Lutie is very much the outsider of the three. The only girl, raised away from her brothers up in Canada, she’s a traumatised young woman when we next see her. Her struggle with her abilities to see ghosts and the attendant ramifications was fascinating. Her foster parents have her take anti-psychotics so she won’t see the ghosts, yet Lutie feels that this is not the solution. She can’t square the different schools of thought regarding ghosts her parents adhered to; her father finding the binding of ghosts amoral and dangerous and her mother seeing it as the only way to be safe from other ghosts. Lutie has a lot of anger due to feeling abandoned by her entire family and this unprocessed anger plays a large role in how her gift manifests.

The brother directly above her is the sunny Baz. Charming, musically gifted and a bit of a rolling stone, he’s the only one of the three unable to see ghosts. Baz is the middle child turned baby brother and he’s had a rough time growing up. There are secrets to him only revealed towards the ending of the story that made my heart bleed for him. Baz has a huge heart and as a true middle child is the peacemaker of the family. Baz grows a lot over the course of the novel, finally coming into his own and feeling as if he might become his brother’s equal instead of his responsibility.

Sol is the eldest and my favourite of the three. His desperate sense of responsibility and duty, to Baz, to his job, and to the ghosts he sees wandering lost, gets in the way of his own happiness, as he’s often AWOL without notice and with calling his girlfriend. Yet the fact that he loves her deeply is never in doubt. Sol is the proverbial still water that runs deep and he doesn’t show his emotions very well nor does he ask and accept help very easily. He seems super put-together on the outside, yet from his internal dialogue the reader learns how much he doubts himself and how much his self-assurance is a sham. I loved the interactions between Sol and Baz – and later Lucy – there is a genuine bond there, but not an easy one and the sometimes (not so) gentle ribbing between the brothers conveyed their relationship beautifully. Like Baz, Sol grows a lot over the course of the novel, but he’s very much from done.

Most of the story is set in the present day with several flashbacks interspersed throughout the narrative, showing us what exactly happened all those years ago when Lutie was seven. And what happened in between. The flashbacks are powerful passages, with especially Baz’s main flashback wringing my heart and being really creepy as well. Riopelle’s writing is assured and proved a smooth read. I especially liked the way she used language nuances to convey the differences between the siblings. First of all there is the Cajun element with Sol speaking it far better than Baz and Lutie not speaking it at all. Then there is the distinction being made between Cajun Franglish and Acadian French, not to mention the difference between American English and Canadian English. I love the fact that both boys talk about distances in miles, while Lutie thinks in kilometres. That sort of detail makes the narrative even better to me.

As I mentioned before, Deadroads was entertaining, its mystery compelling, but it was also far more emotionally complex than I’d expected. From the synopsis I’d expected an interesting setting and a cool supernatural mystery plot, what I got was a study of what it means to be between worlds, both literally and figuratively, and how hard it is to (re-)connect to those we love, when those we love can also hurt us the most. I loved the Sarrazin siblings and I truly hope Riopelle will return to them in the future, as their story doesn’t feel over, even if this story arc is and I really want to spend more time with them. If you enjoy supernatural fantasy and a good ghost story then Robin Riopelle’s debut Deadroads should suit you to a tee.

This book was provided for review by the author.