Kris Nelscott (Kristine Kathryn Rusch) A Dangerous Road Reviewed by Terry D'Auray

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A Dangerous Road

Kris Nelscott (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)

St. Martin's/Minotaur

US Mass Market Paperback

ISBN: 0-312-97643-7

Publication Date: June, 2001

323 Pages; $6.50

Date Reviewed: September 9, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004



Mystery, General Fiction


It's a winding, meandering road. It's really conducive for ambushing...That's a dangerous road. -- Martin Luther King, Jr., April 3, 1968.

Beginning with this opening quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., Kris Nelscott proceeds to tell the story of that winding, meandering road, a story of ambushes and danger, from the perspective of Smokey Dalton, Black PI in Memphis in the days just prior to the assassination of King. Opening and closing with an essential flee-from-danger escape, 'A Dangerous Road' fills the spaces in between with a finely tuned story that mixes the racial unrest of the era with a search for personal redemption.

(Kris Nelscott is a pseudonym of science fiction writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch. 'A Dangerous Road' is the first of her Smokey Dalton detective series, published in hardback by St. Martin's in July of 2000).

Smokey Dalton reluctantly hires out to a patrician white woman from Chicago, Laura Hathaway, to discover why her wealthy parents have bequeathed Dalton money in their will. However uneasy their alliance at the outset, a penurious black man and a wealthy white woman share little but suspicion, the journey becomes a joint quest for truth, a dual search for personal roots inexplicably intertwined and long buried.

Smokey Dalton is a finely realized first person narrator and he tells this story at his own satisfying pace, withholding and then revealing details of his life like breadcrumbs on the trail of discovery. Smokey's history, one of unjust racial brutality and the resulting sense of isolation and dread, is slowly pieced together from bits of fact, from dreams and ultimately from his restless soul. Smokey is uneasy in this world, haunted by past demons, his black rage dampened to perpetual dread, his hope lost to the realities he sees. He is a man of principal, with a moral center and ethical compass as strongly tuned as any loner PI in the genre. Dalton's eye takes in all manner of detail and nuance, from the streets of racially explosive Memphis to the pathos of a near motherless young boy and his older brother. Racial and social barriers -between Smokey and Laura, between blacks and whites, men and women, adults and children - are described without hyperbole, with a matter-of-fact acceptance underscored with a simmering rage.

Nelscott writes with deceptive simplicity in language that is straight forward and clean. With complete command of her story, she moves easily between the case, Dalton and Laura's joint search and budding relationship, to social history-in-the-making with Martin Luther King Jr.'s presence in Memphis and his past ties to Dalton. Great story telling anchors history in the reality of these finely drawn characters. Although rooted in the violence of the times, Nelscott's Dalton is a true disciple of King, a non-violent man of integrity and passion, attuned to the realities and responsibilities of a Black man in a Black community. Violence stays in the streets, as history testifies, and a quieter, more compelling upheaval drives Smokey's personal story.

'A Dangerous Road' is a story of discovery and pain, of unexpected connections between people, of love and responsibility, set in a period of racial turmoil. Its pacing builds interest and curiosity, not suspense. It is a character-driven story of personal growth and acceptance that lures the reader with enticing human revelations and derives its tension from the turbulence of the times. Nelscott strikes the perfect balance, delivering a novel that simmers with dread rather than boils with rage. She leaves the reader satisfied with her well-told story but eagerly curious to reconnect with Smokey Dalton in future books.