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Thunder Road, by Tamara Thorne
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Kensington Publishing
Published: 2004
Review Posted: 10/19/2006
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 7 out of 10

Thunder Road, by Tamara Thorne

Book Review by Jeff Edwards

Have you read this book?

For such a small town, there's a lot going on in Madelyn, California. A scientist and her assistant have just arrived, hoping to study the UFOs that have been reported in the area - but the strange lights in the sky hold a deeper meaning for a local religious cult whose members believe the Apocalypse is only days away. Meanwhile, at the Old West theme park, the Haunted Mine is quickly filling up with corpses as a budding serial killer learns his trade.

In Thunder Road, Tamara Thorne travels beyond customary horror fodder - the vampires and haunted houses found in her more de rigueur work - and instead creates something quirky and original. Building Madelyn from a composite of various historic ghost towns and Wild West parks, Thorne infuses the setting with her interest in ufology, folklore and perceptions. Although she writes, "[UFOs] didn't go with cowboys and horses any more than whisky went with a dish of ice cream," Thorne isn't afraid to defy conventional wisdom: She takes wildly disparate elements - scientists and sheep herders, a shady military colonel and a crooked religious zealot, unidentified flying objects and earthquakes - and weaves them together in a compelling story that seems almost preordained.

Thorne's character development is even better than her plotting: Nearly every person in the novel undergoes a genuine arc - something you don't find every day in genre fiction. The book's female characters are unique, independent women, but the male characters are the ones who set the story in motion: Justin Martin is a teenaged psychopath who yearns to be an apprentice to a legendary killer; James Robert Sinclair is a charismatic but dishonest religious leader who literally "sees the light" and changes his ways; Carlos Pelegrine is a fortune teller with dark secrets who is trying to atone for past sins; and Tom Abernathy is a self-styled cowboy who watches John Wayne movies to relax but prefers the path of least resistance in real life.

Thunder Road has its faults: A love-at-first-sight romance continues without a hitch after one of the lovers confesses to murder, and a rescue mission toward the end of the book seems far-fetched. In fact, the conclusion itself is downright inconclusive - but perhaps that's the way Thorne wanted it. After all, she says her novel is not as much about UFOs as it is "about people's varying views of such things." And so, as the story draws to a close, it's not clear if the unidentified flying objects are piloted by aliens or angels - and Thorne refuses to answer that question for her readers.

Within the novel, more than one character sings the praises of a local cafe and its "heavenly scent of burgers and fries." Thunder Road is a little bit like that "greasy spoon": It's not highbrow literature, and Tamara Thorne knows it - but she serves up the thrills and chills (with a side of dry wit) better than most.
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