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Blood Highway


Blood Highway

Gina Wohlsdorf captured and secured my attention in 2016 with the publication of her debut novel, SECURITY. It’s an unsettling book, all the more so for its ability to play upon the reader’s often erroneous expectations and perceptions. BLOOD HIGHWAY, her sophomore effort, is (somewhat) more straightforward but no less surprising than its predecessor for entirely different reasons.

Rainy Cain is the book’s troubled but tough narrator, a 17-year-old high school senior with an advanced master’s degree in survival skills. Things jump around a bit timewise before Rainy settles into a very rough groove, made more so by the appearance of a ghost from a past she never had. The shade is named Sam, and he is the father Rainy has never known. Rainy has no knowledge of Sam, believing him to have been long dead. He actually has been in prison serving time for his participation in an armored car robbery that went very wrong.

"BLOOD HIGHWAY is a bit like a carnival funhouse.... The book as a whole seems at times to be a collaborative effort between Elmore Leonard and Joan Didion, which isn’t as impossible as you might think."

Sam escapes and immediately kidnaps the daughter he has never known. Accompanied by a brooding, taciturn and very dangerous cohort known as “Johnny Blue,” Sam transports Rainy from slushy Minneapolis west to northern California. He is convinced that Rainy’s mother had stashed the proceeds from the ill-fated heist there and shared the location with Rainy.

Meanwhile, Blaine, a Minneapolis cop whose background is not dissimilar to Rainy’s, is in pursuit with the intent of bringing her home. He doggedly follows the vague trail the involuntary trio is leaving. It is Blaine who is just behind Rainy in the competition to determine who is BLOOD HIGHWAY’s most complex character. We don’t know a lot about Blaine, at least at first, but Wohlsdorf drops an occasional hidden breadcrumb or two throughout the narrative to give the reader a what and maybe a why behind Blaine’s deeper motivations for what he does. The question that haunts throughout a good deal of the book is how much or how little Rainy knows, and how she can leverage her knowledge --- or lack thereof --- to get her out of the situation alive (at the very least).

BLOOD HIGHWAY is a bit like a carnival funhouse. I’m thinking particularly of the room where the floorboards keep shifting as you walk through it. You might think while reading it that you have an idea as to what is going on. Everything then shifts, just a bit, not enough to knock you over but sufficient to keep you unbalanced or at least in anticipation of it. Rainy, as is demonstrated in the book’s early pages, is a survivor of long-standing. Wohlsdorf provides all sorts of urban survival tactics, such as restaurant table diving and shopping at department store lost-and-founds. The elders among us might not have the urge to do such things, but the temptation can be strong, though not enough to engage if such is not born of necessity.

While the soundtrack to the story’s interior might be Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, I kept hearing the spirit of Horses by Patti Smith playing in my head. The book as a whole seems at times to be a collaborative effort between Elmore Leonard and Joan Didion, which isn’t as impossible as you might think. BLOOD HIGHWAY may be more of a young adult novel than its predecessor, but it is intriguing as well as unsettling for both demographics. Check it out.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 10, 2018

Blood Highway
by Gina Wohlsdorf

  • Publication Date: August 7, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1616205636
  • ISBN-13: 9781616205638