Guilt. It’s a powerful emotion, one that wrestles with heart and mind alike and usually wins with an easy pin-down. Just ask Raskolnikov and Handy White.
Cemetery Road opens with memories of the last day Handy spent in Los Angeles. The year was 1979, the smell of tar was overwhelming and Handy and his buddies O’Neal Holden and RJ Burrow are burning the money they’ve stolen from a rather unpleasant drug dealer.
It’s a shame they couldn’t have burned their guilt along with it.
Instead, the three men go their separate ways to suffer the twisted consequences of their robbery for the next 25 years.
When Handy gets news that RJ Burrow has been murdered, he attends the funeral fearing the worst – that what happened when they were young has finally caught up with them and that he’ll be next in line.
What follows is an investigation by Handy into the death of his friend. This main strand is threaded in with the recounting of the robbery that set the chain of events in motion. Past and present move on apace, each engaging and impossible to separate.
Gar Anthony Haywood does a splendid job with an excellent premise. Like many of the finest, he uses the voice of the story to describe the impact life’s events have upon the way the world unfolds, as well as paying witness to the inevitable movement of progress that is so much bigger than any individual.
Each chapter opens superbly, as though the author has treated them with the respect one often sees for the notoriously difficult first line. Within these openings, he injects the profound into the ordinary and in doing so adds an extra weight to the things he is about to describe.
It’s a fine book. Well written throughout. The plots run in parallel perfectly well and his handling maintains a variety of tensions and unanswered questions like a juggler who can keep enough balls to supply a tennis match in the air at any one time.
I really enjoyed the slow reveals, the confidence with which Haywood allows Handy to meander through LA and the insides of mechanical objects in whichever way he so wishes and the detailed descriptions of the internal and external worlds on show.
Cemetery Road is a thought-provoking read and a very entertaining one.