OFF THE WELL-LIT PATH by M.S.  Holm

OFF THE WELL-LIT PATH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A desperate man tries to recover his teenage daughter, kidnapped in Mexico. 

Bob Rugg and his 13-year-old daughter, Rose, travel to Mexico together with plans to relax on a sun-drenched beach. But they’re intercepted by gangsters who steal Rugg’s truck and abscond with Rose. Rugg, shot and left for dead, somehow survives. He’s brought to a hospital, where one of his legs is amputated. Hobbled but determined, he takes it upon himself to track Rose down, afraid that if he reports the crime, he’ll forfeit his only real advantage—the gangsters don’t know he’s alive and coming for them. Rugg only has the most meager of leads. For example, he remembers that a young thug with a pronounced limp lifted his wallet. Holm (Driller, 2016) alternates between two dueling narratives: a third-person perspective that focuses on Rugg and a first-person account from the perch of Rayo, a newly recruited gavillero under the rule of El Sin, the crime boss who runs the outfit that abducted Rose. The author artfully swings between two viewpoints worlds apart, capturing the vulnerabilities Rugg and Rayo share: Both submitted to the despotic calculations of El Sin. Rugg takes extraordinary risks to find his daughter and finds that the line that separates law enforcement from organized crime is capriciously drawn. 

Holm beautifully combines two typically incongruent fictional genres: a gripping, action-packed novel and an emotionally astute drama. His writing is poetically austere at times, invoking the hard-boiled prose of Cormac McCarthy: “The streets daylit. Rugg saw laborers with bundled lunches and water jugs, some riding bicycles, their lives lived beyond his troubles. Their troubles borne beyond what his life would know.” The author refuses to traffic in facile caricatures or easy moral distinctions: Rayo is a sympathetic character because of, not despite, his imperfections, and even El Sin, as dastardly as he is, is permitted a human side. And Rugg is a deliciously complex character—a former pilot and soldier, he radiates a grizzled toughness and a cynical wisdom born of loss and despair. Holm could have made him into a formulaic action hero—cinematically invincible—but he avoids that shopworn trope. And the surfeit of action the book does deliver unfolds in captivating language, the violence terrifyingly real, the danger sickeningly ubiquitous: “The desert without gully or outcrop. A vanished sea had left Rugg no concealment beyond the holes of long dead foraminifera, their benthic shells crunching under his feet. He ran with his mouth blooded and agape, as though in astonishment at a newly broken world, one where masked marauders set a man free so that they might shoot him in the back.” This is certainly not a feel-good story or for those in search of lighthearted entertainment. Holm asks a lot of his reader, both to understand the plot and to stomach the violence. But the author repays that labor with a memorable literary experience. 

A thrilling and moving story of love and desperation. 

ISBN: 978-0-9974553-8-0
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Sentry Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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