Review - KING OF THE ROAD, Nigel Bartlett
KING OF THE ROAD is Sydney based author Nigel Bartlett's debut novel. Gritty, complicated and fast-paced it takes the reader into the uncomfortable world of abduction of young boys and paedophile rings. From the moment that young Andrew disappears from David Kingsgrove's home there's a sinking sense of despair. Firstly because of the police's obsession with Kingsgrove as the only suspect, and secondly because a young boy going missing like that instantly makes you think the absolute worse.
With only one friend prepared to believe in him, Kingsgrove is in a no win position, especially when his own family seem to suspect the worse. Going on the run could possibly telegraph guilt to others, but it seems to be the only way to find Andrew most importantly, and clear his name in the process.
Needless to say, the subject matter in this novel is going to worry some readers, and whilst there's nothing explicit or overt, it's impossible not to know what it is that cohorts of men like this do. Not helped by the sorts of character's that Kingsgrove eventually uncovers. It's sobering to think that people like this could really exist. It's even more sobering to think that the systems that they use to organise and communicate are so cleverly done.
The action centres around David Kingsgrove, and because his search for Andrew is a combination of Facebook investigation, and following every lead no matter how minor, he has to be a believable character. Not just believable, it's possible to have enormous sympathy for this man. A loving uncle, who incidental to his care and concern for his nephew is a gay man, he's resourceful, fit, brave and very determined. It's testament to his believability that at no stage is the reader left wondering how he could possibly be discovering things the police don't seem to be able to see. He also provides a very good lesson on how to hide in full view for quite a while which was most illuminating. But the best part about Kingsgrove is that determination. In the face of personal danger, confronted by some awful human beings, he stays true to the task of finding Andrew.
There are twists and turns in the search for Andrew that are going to surprise, there are some really awful people to be uncovered and some surprises in store, even when you think there can't possibly be any more. Whilst there's much about KING OF THE ROAD that's flat out a wild, tense, fast paced ride, there's also plenty of touching moments, and some glimpses of good, and some strong characters. An unusual book in many ways, KING OF THE ROAD is well worth reading, even if the subject matter is a no go zone for you.
When David's 11-year-old nephew goes missing and he finds the finger pointed at him, he has no choice but to strike out on his own – an unlikely vigilante running away from the police and his own family, and running towards what he hopes desperately is the truth about Andrew's disappearance.
David Kingsgrove is a man on a mission. An ordinary man – and an extraordinary mission. It is a mission that will turn him into someone he never thought he would be: the King of the Road, the loner on the highway, the crusader for a sort of justice he has never before had to seek.
Andrew had been a regular visitor to David's home right up until the day he disappeared, walking out the front door to visit a neighbour. It doesn't take long for the police to decide that David – a single man in his thirties, living alone – is their suspect. Soon Andrew's parents will share that opinion. But David knows that he didn't take Andrew.
Realising that the only way Andrew will be found is if he finds him – the police, after all, are fixated on David as their suspect and are not looking anywhere else – David turns to the one person who he knows will help him: Matty an ex-cop now his personal trainer, whose own son disappeared several years before.
David's crusade to find Andrew will also take him into his own dark heart – to do things he never thought he would have to do, and go places he has never wanted to go. And the choices David makes lead us all to ask: How far would I go to save someone I love?
This is a compelling story that is almost impossible to stop reading – a hero's journey, of sorts, with a momentum that is breathtaking even while the subject matter is confronting.