The Dark Roads of novelist Chevy Stevens’ newest thriller encompasses Cold Creek Highway, which stretches 500 miles through British Columbia’s rugged wilderness to the west coast. Isolated and vast, this lonely, sparsely-populated byway has become a prime hunting ground for transient predators. For decades, young women—especially Indigenous women—traveling the road have gone missing. Motorists and hitchhikers, those passing through or living in one of the small towns scattered along the region, have fallen prey repeatedly. Making matters worse, no killer or abductor who has stalked the highway has ever been brought to justice.
Stevens based her location on the infamous Highway of Tears, a long corridor of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, which has been the location of many missing and murdered Indigenous women beginning in 1970. The story starts with the ghost of one of these girls explaining the situation but not revealing the identity of her killer—or her own. After that, the tale launches into one of the two heroines who command the readers’ (or listeners’ in this case) attention throughout the harrowing tale.
Hailey McBride is the first: she’s a high school student who’s been through a lot of tragedy and struggles with her sexual identity. Her recently deceased father taught her to respect nature, live and survive off the land, and instill a healthy fear of the highway. But he’s gone, leaving her a teenage orphan in the care of her aunt whose police officer husband uses his badge as a means to bully and control everyone… especially Hailey. When she discovers that Vaughn has been taking nude photos of her with a hidden camera, Hailey vanishes into the mountainous terrain, hoping everyone will believe she’s run away. Rumors spread that she was taken by the highway killer―who’s claimed another victim over the summer—but she’s too afraid to reveal herself. So, she watches, and she waits.
Beth Chevalier is the second main character of Dark Roads, and her story picks up one year after Hailey’s “disappearance.” She arrives in Cold Creek, where her sister Amber lived―and where she was murdered by the mysterious highwayman. Estranged from her parents and desperate for closure, Beth takes a waitressing job at the local diner, just as Amber did, in an attempt to understand what happened and why. Soon, she meets Office Vaughn, and Beth’s hunt for answers puts a target on her back―and threatens to reveal the truth behind Hailey’s disappearance.
The whole thing wraps with the ghost, revealing who she is, what happened to her, and why she stays in Cold Creek.
I’ve read a few of Stevens’ previous novels and have become a fan—this is my first time listening to one of her stories as an audiobook. I think it helped bolster this atypically scattered uneven story. While the tale is compelling and the moments of suspense are beautifully written, Stevens tries to keep too many balls in the air as she juggles a lot of characters and tackles deep themes (sexuality, coming of age, pedophilia, murder, the shoddy treatment of Indigenous people, etc.). Also, there’s way too much about Hailey’s dog—while I do love animals, I found the many, many long passages about the dog tedious and unnecessary.
As I mentioned, though, the narrators that save the day. I don’t think Dark Roads would have been as entertaining in physical book or e-formats. The three women—Hailey, Beth, and the ghost—are portrayed by Angela Dawe, Brittany Pressley, are Isabella Star LaBlanc, and they do a fantastic job of seamlessly embodying characters of all ages plus female and male.
While Dark Roads may not be Stevens’ best novel to date, it is still better-written and more entertaining than most thrillers out this year—and fans of true crime can get their fix with more Highway of Tears mythology.