ROAD LINES by Chris Ould


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Ould's confident debut is a sort of Raymond Chandler tale set in a Mad Max world, near-future England. ""Conzos""--ghettos for the unemployed--have been surrounded by barbed wire; the ""conzies"" need passbooks to come and go. Despite stringent control at the gates, the conzos are an anarchic free-for-all inside (there's no attempt at thought control in this muscle-based society). When a millionaire's conzie-sympathetic son is murdered and the police get nowhere on the case, the shady rich man gives a ""breaker"" (essentially, an officially sanctioned bounty-hunter) a private contract to bring back the killer alive. The breaker, Carl, is the novel's narrator: he drives a Jaguar, scores his points with guile and gun-toting bluster, and is occasionally beaten senseless along the way. Carl's also a pro at sneaking through the gaps in the conzo walls, and milking a band of motley informers. His surprising first finding is that the murdered heir was in with a band of revolutionaries who are involved in smuggling guns. His second surprise is that Jude, a fellow breaker and former lover, has been given a competing contract to make sure the killer isn't alive to be caught. And so Carl is off after a fragile string of clues, through the conzos of Cornwall, where armed rebels are taking their first hope-drank potshots. Carl's hard-boiled sensibility and deadpan voice make the perfect filter through which to view this menacing wasteland. His tracking mission is hardly plausible, but the atmospherics, really, are everything: This gray verminous world is as scary and as fascinating as a richly detailed nightmare.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1987
Publisher: Andre Deutsch--dist. by David & Charles