Pandemonium Road by Thomas Emson. Book review

PANDEMONIUM ROAD by Thomas Emson. Snowbooks £6.99

Reviewed by Tom Crouch

You need a good hook to grip the reader. How about: “The man with wings cut off my father’s head”? I think it works. And fortunately, this short novel told in the first person, and aimed at a young adult audience, kept this reader engaged – for the first half of the book at least; more on this later. The character of Jimmy is well realised and engenders sympathy. The style is easy, pulling you in.

Jimmy, 17, is in perpetual trouble with the police, mostly for TWOC. His best friend is Tyler and his girlfriend was Sammie, until she dumped him for not keeping his promise to go straight. Then Jimmy and Tyler steal a black Merc with a precious cargo in the boot — thirteen briefcases each with something more valuable than drugs or money or gold or diamonds. The owner wants the briefcases returned, and unleashes the demons from hell to get them back.

The cases contain the souls of people who’d made pacts with the devil. Inevitably, demons pursue Jimmy and Tyler — one in a chariot of fire – in a frenetic race that seems to have only one possible, dire, outcome. The pursuit takes the reader through the streets of Canterbury and eventually to the White Cliffs of Dover.

Sadly, at the point the chase begins, the narrative goes OTT. It’s all about the car chase. Jimmy drives at high speed through city streets, the cathedral grounds, across fields. The action takes place at midnight, yet Jimmy sees all that’s happening in his wake, even the looks of terror in the eyes of the innocent people before they are mown down. I drive and I tell you: No you can’t see this kind of detail. It feels as if the excitement was created for a Hollywood script. Or to appeal to boys who haven’t yet learned to drive. It’s a real pity because the book started so brilliantly.