Book Review: Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens
By John ValeriAugust 10, 2021
Vancouver Island native Chevy Stevens made an indelible mark on the literary landscape with 2010’s Still Missing—the premise of which came to her when she was working as a realtor. That title became a New York Times bestseller, won the International Thriller Award for Best First Novel, and has been published in more than thirty countries. Since then, Stevens has published five standalone suspense novels, earning additional critical acclaim and a legion of devoted readers. This August, after a four-year hiatus, she returns with Dark Roads.
The book begins with a chilling prologue, narrated by an (as yet) unidentified young woman—one of many who have lost their lives along a dark, desolate stretch of highway that runs through Cold Creek, British Colombia, where a killer has gone undetected for decades. The victims—more than half of which are First Nations—have become a cautionary tale (complete with billboard), memorial shrines, and MISSING PERSONS posters nearly as common a sight as foliage and freight trucks. (As the Author’s Note acknowledges, the book’s fictionalized storyline was influenced by a real-life case, known as the Highway of Tears in Northern British Columbia.)
Part One. 17-year-old Hailey McBride is still grieving the loss of her father, who died when his truck went off the road. She lives with her aunt, Lana, cousin, Cash, and Lana’s husband, Erick Vaughn—a police sergeant known to locals as the Iceman. Under near-constant scrutiny, Hailey finds fleeting moments of normalcy with her best friend, Jonny Miller (a fellow dirt biker), and her new crush, Amber, a waitress at the diner with whom she shares a brief flirtation. But when Vaughn’s interest appears to shift from protective to predatory, Hailey knows she has to escape the confines of his home before things escalate. And so she does, right into the woods that border the Cold Creek Highway.
Part Two. Beth Chevalier—Amber’s sister and an aspiring lawyer—comes to Cold Creek to attend a memorial vigil for the victims, which now include her sibling. Rather than returning home to her family, school, and internship she decides to stay on and take the same job her sister held at the diner. It’s a great place to meet the locals and get the gossip, which she figures will be helpful in finding Amber’s killer. When she catches Jonny’s eye, it does not go unnoticed by Vaughn, who believes the boy knows more about Hailey’s disappearance than he’s letting on. Neither can make a move without risking the officer’s scrutiny—but inaction is not an option.
Part Three. Hailey and Beth’s stories begin to merge. Despite being strangers, they share a love for Amber and a thirst for vengeance; they also understand that Cold Creek is harboring deep, dark secrets that must be brought to light if the town’s women are ever to be safe there (and justice to be served). With Jonny as their link—albeit a precarious one, given Vaugh’s suspicions and surveillance—the two must decide if they can trust one another enough to bring down a common enemy. But is Vaughn a killer or is he merely an overzealous policeman on a power trip? Finding out just might be the death of them.
As noted, the story is comprised of three distinct parts; the first and second allow the author’s dual protagonists to each serve as the focal point (with peripheral characters carrying over between the segments), while the third melds their narratives. It’s an effective structure, given the women’s equally strong but disparate personalities and life experiences, which are essential to establishing their actions and underlying motivations. Despite the differences, Hailey and Beth are linked by a series of tragic events—and their loyalties to Amber and Jonny—that demand recompense. The ultimate balance, then, is that while women have been made the victims, they have also made themselves the avengers.
Dark Roads is a triumphant return for Chevy Stevens, proving that some things are indeed worth the wait. Seldom are characters, setting, and premise imbued with such depth and nuance, each bolstering the others to form a collective and cohesive whole that surpasses its singularly impressive parts. The result is a nerve-shredding tale of sacrifice and survival that lingers long after the last line has been read. Remember: The paths we tread are rife with opportunity and consequence. Choose wisely.