When I started reading David Adam Richards’ The Lost Highway I hated it. It was Crime and Punishment all over again, but set in the Maritimes and populated by poor Francaphones instead of poor Russians. Instead of murder for money, murder for a lottery ticket. The same obsessive hand wringing, the same excessive meditation on should-I, shouldn’t-I.
Until! Midway through the book Richards’ must have realized (or perhaps his editor) that a novel can only go so long without a plot event, and decided to introduce the detective, Markus Paul, and the narrative takes. off. I don’t mean just in plot events (in fact they remain sparse until the last twenty odd pages), but Markus’ observations about the outside world, about character behaviour and motivation counterbalance Adam’s obsessive internalization. Markus brings clarity to the moral question of the novel – how do we justify our action and the character question how do single decisions alter whole lives, whole sense of self – by taking action.
I almost gave up on this one, and I’m delighted that I didn’t. The suspense of the last fifty pages – both in terms of what happens and in terms of what kind of decision will Adam make (the right choice? what is the right choice?) is brilliant. You might argue with me that this suspense could not have been built without the preceding 400 pages of hand wringing, and I’d say you’re wrong. The hand-wringing is only terrible when it lacks the counterpoint of considered, measured action. The success of the psychological drama in this novel is its balance in minor, yet brilliant, action. My only regret is that the first third of the book lacks this balance, and is something painful to read as a result. Is the payoff worth it? It’s a mystery! (ha! get it? spies and detectives category? it’s a mystery? time to sign-off…)