The Revenant Road by Michael Boatman is, underneath it all, the coming-of-age tale of Obadiah Grudge. Granted, it's an unusual one in that Grudge is 38 years old, well past the point when most such stories are written. He's also a very successful author of, as he calls them, "hardboiled" mysteries. The most recent of these is River's Edge, which, like all of Grudge's books, tells of a dark and twisted passage, in this case that of a young girl abducted by her father. Truth be told, Obadiah is a complete snob where his writing … and his fans … are concerned. He bristles when someone tags him with the horror label. In fact, he "hates" the genre. Don't look for any supernatural mumbo-jumbo in his work; his villains are always rooted in the real world, and fuck anyone who doesn't like it.
As The Revenant Road opens, Grudge is on the publicity circuit for his latest bestseller and riding high on its success. However, his near perfect world is about to be turned on its ear after he receives a phone call from his mother, Lenore, relaying the unfortunate news that his long absent father, Marcus, has died. At the funeral Lenore introduces Obadiah to Neville Kowalski, his father's "partner" of 30 years. At first Grudge is unclear and more than a bit angry as to what exactly their partnership entailed. Were they lovers, associates of some sort, or what? Nothing could have prepared him for the truth. Marcus and Neville were hunters, not of wild game or even evil men, but of monsters, and now it's up to Obadiah to carry on the family business. He's not what you'd call happy about it either and spends a good deal of time (almost too much considering the rather short length of the book) fighting the inevitable. Instead of digging deeper into his parent's relationship and the nature of his father's estrangement from Lenore and himself, he wastes time (and pages) with heavy drinking and other distractions. As the reader realizes long before he does, this will, of course, not work. His path has been chosen, and once he finally accepts that and embarks on the journey fate (and the quite talented Boatman) has laid out for him, that's when The Revenant Road really picks up steam and alternately entertains and horrifies its audience.
The book is broken up into 35 short chapters that randomly switch among Obadiah's first-person accounts of events as they transpire, a few flashbacks of his childhood, and updates on The Revenant Road's big bad, which is cutting a gory, corpse-strewn swath across Seattle, Washington. These brief segments make TRR an easy read. You can pick it up and put it down numerous times during the day if you have a busy schedule; however, it does make it somewhat choppy and hard to follow at times. That minor quibble aside, Boatman has created a fascinating new world for horrorphiles to explore -- one overseen by the Nolane, who enlist human Hunters endowed with certain abilities (or Bents) to do battle against Squatters from the Darkness. The members of the Echelon act as intermediaries between the Nolane and the humans, giving the Hunters their assignments and weapons. The realm between the two worlds is known as the Wraithing. As I was enveloped by The Revenant Road's rich universe that combines familiar ancient legends with this new terminology, I was struck by the Wraithing's similarity to the Gloom found in Timur Bekmambetov's Night Watch and Day Watch -- the spooky space found between light and dark that traps so many unfortunate souls in its grasp. Good times -- and the stuff of nightmares!
As you'd expect, all roads in The Revenant Road lead to an ultimate showdown between Obadiah and the creature in Seattle, and the payoff does not disappoint, nor does the voyage that takes us there as it includes some truly brilliant flashes of humor and irony such as a recurring theme of several of Grudge's critics attempting to kill him and one particular thinly disguised TV talk show hostess/vampire who tries to have her way with him. I probably should have also mentioned by now Grudge's ability to see the recently deceased and the uncanny knack he has for foretelling the date on which someone will pass away, the latter of which plays heavily into the book's climax. Which brings us to the only real complaint I have about The Revenant Road: It ends entirety too soon and leaves one feeling a tad unsatisfied. Don't get me wrong; Boatman does a stellar job of introducing characters and situations and following through, but I felt as though I were left hanging, dying to turn the page and continue on the fantastical journey of Obadiah Grudge that he had set up so masterfully. If there are to be no further tales from the Road, then I suppose we can be content with what we've been given, but I can't remember the last time I finished a book filled with so much anticipation for a continuation of the storyline and a chance to revisit its characters (especially the one-eyed firecracker known as the Blood Rose whom we've just barely scratched the surface of).
Hopefully a movie version or, even better, a cable TV miniseries of The Revenant Road is in the works. I would happily spend an hour every week with Obadiah, Neville, and the rest of the gang. In the interim, Boatman has left an additional tasty morsel to tide us over, a "bonus" story entitled Neville and the Midnight Miracle Massacre, which details the origins of Kowalski's walk along The Revenant Road. It's a beautifully terrifying account that, again, leaves one wanting more.
From Van Helsing to Buffy to the Winchester brothers on Supernatural, classic literature and popular culture are littered with references to hunters and slayers, those driven, gifted men and women who risk their lives to protect ours from all that goes bump in the night. With this introduction to Obadiah Grudge and his trusty raven sidekick Othello, Michael Boatman has given us another icon to look up to and check in on now and again. Even if he is, as Grudge describes himself, an arrogant prick with abandonment issues. When my ass is on the line, he's the first person I intend to call!