NEED MORE ROAD
By Stephen Jared
Stephen Jared is one of the more promising voices in New Pulp fiction working today and his past titles have shown a real flare for both heroic adventure and tightly plotted noir crime thrilles. Whereas with “Need More Road,” he sets out on a much more ambitions journey to create a poignant character study of a lonely man living in quiet desperation. Sadly, even his talent can’t save the book’s rambling second half.
The tale is set in the post World War II years. Eddie Howard is a fifty year old bank clerk living the sleep desert town of Barstow, California. He lives alone in his dead parents’ house where he was raised and the only real joy he has are his trips to the small movie house. Eddie loves the movies and sees each new release multiple times. They are his ticket out of the mundane routine of his boorish life.
Then one day a beautiful young woman walks into the bank and from that moment on Eddie’s world is sent spiraling out of control. A Marilyn Monroe clone, Mary Rose has come to Barstow to set up an account for her father, Mr.McCoy, who is still living back in Los Angeles. Eddie befriends her and they soon become close. He can’t believe his good fortune. When her supposed father eventually arrives in town, the reader is miles ahead of this familiar noir plot line. The man calling himself Mary Rose’s father is actually her criminal boyfriend and they are in town to rob the bank. By now Eddie has fallen totally under the blonde femme fatale’s charms.
All this is classic noir and Jared does a great job moving the story along carefully with no sense of urgency. It is this deliberate pacing that builds the tension and as poor Eddie falls deeper and deeper into the couple’s web of lies, it is impossible to put the book down. The heist is carried out and then the characters begin their escape with the stolen cash.
Even when Eddie manages to outwit McCoy and his safecracking buddy, and escape their clutches with Mary Rose in tow, the suspense rolls along at breakneck speed taking the fugitives on a twisting, rambling road. All the while their relationship seems to flounder and have no clear purpose; it’s as if despite everything that has happened, Eddie and Mary Rose are doomed to remain strangers.
The hallmark of noir fiction is a climatic finale that is most often tragic. Whereas Jared’s last third of “Need More Road” doesn’t go anywhere. It just stops. The book has no solid ending to justify its powerful first half. At the end we are left with an exercise in good writing. In this genre that is just not enough.