Fiction · Horror · Mystery/Thriller · Suspense

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

th_ffb7925b6ca65c589e11ac4dbf13773b_thewhiteroadPublisher: Mullholland Books

Date Published: May 30, 2017

My Rating: 4/5 stars

I would like to thank Mullholland Books via Netgalley for providing me with a free digital copy of this book to review.

You know what’s scarier than your average ghost story?  A ghost story that’s set deep in the squalid bowels of the Earth, rocks closing in, threatening to swallow all who dare to enter its gaping maw.  Or how about nearly 8,000 metres above sea level in blinding light and snow, where the oxygen levels are so low they’ll deplete you of all reason and sanity before you even realize what’s happening?

Readers will encounter true terror at the heart of The White Road.  When Simon Newman, a wise-cracking, callow adrenaline jockey, starts a website with a buddy, they’re desperate for massive hits and advertising revenue.  Foolishly, they concoct a plan whereby Simon (a not-unexperienced caver) will journey into the bowels of an infamous earthy underbelly, Cwm Pot, to acquire video footage of the bodies of three cave explorers who perished within years earlier.  Simon, cocky as all get out, hires a man named Ed as his guide.  It doesn’t take long underground for Simon to realize there is something very wrong with Ed.  After narrowly escaping death and fighting off the paranoid and violent ex-military man, Simon is left to die in the cavern along with Ed and the three long-dead cavers, who he has come to exploit for his fifteen minutes of fame and fortune.  However, he is miraculously rescued and pulled to safety.  As he said, his story should have ended there.  But it didn’t.

While in the cave, Simon experienced things beyond his nastiest nightmares and can’t shake the feeling that maybe it wasn’t all stress-induced hallucinations.  But the footage he managed to get is enough for a massive uptick in his website’s followers, so Simon swallows his guilt and apprehension as best he can.  But he can’t shake Ed…or what happened in the cave…

Soon after, Simon’s partner convinces him that they need another boost in popularity and comes up with another dastardly, but surely successful, plan: scaling Mount Everest to film the bodies of people who have perished while attempting to reach its summit.  Unappetizing and morally disgusting, I know, but who says we have to like the characters in our books??  Knowing better, but ignoring the potential consequences of such a journey, Simon sets off on his ghastly quest, unaware that the horrors that tormented him in the cave were only the tip of the iceberg and the mountain has some even more unpleasant surprises waiting for him…

Simon’s voice isn’t the only one we hear in this book, however.  We also have Juliet Michaels, a famous female mountain climber.  As she prepares to best the icy summit, she experiences what is called “The Third Man” phenomenon (named after a famous T.S. Eliot poem about a mysterious figure that travels alongside two men in the Arctic).  Juliet is carrying a lot of baggage on this climb: a failed marriage, seperation from her young son, the death of her former climbing partner a year earlier, and a tense relationship with the general media.  She is determined to make it to the top, but her encounters with her “Third Man” soon reach a terrifying pitch…

Sarah Lotz has a remarkable way of letting her settings provide the tension and terror in a way that is almost visceral.  Her rich sensory descriptions pull you in and let you experience the events in a way that is mind-numbingly terrifying.  She has old-fashioned creep down to a science.  And even though Simon’s escapades are asinine and morally reprehensible, she has a way of endearing him to the reader which satisfyingly ups the tension in the story.

Along the way, the reader will get to know the climbers that share camps with Juliet and Simon and share in the perils and successes the come with the journey to the summit.  Although it’s suspect whether a mediocre caver like Simon could actually accomplish the physical feats that he does in the book, the amatuer effect will have you rooting for him.  He is the everyman, in a way.  Totally normal.  Totally flawed.  Nothing too special about him.  He could be any one of us and that makes for an engaging read.

The White Road will give you chills and grip you in suspense.  I found the ending to be somewhat rushed and anti-climactic, but it was an enjoyable ride the whole way through.  There is enough information about the particulars of caving and climbing contained within the book that makes it unneccessary to have previous knowledge of these activities.  I found the theme of The Third Man to be a deliciously creepy addition that ties the stories together nicely.  Simon provides some fantastic foreshadowing, not too much, that creates some much-needed tension that propelled the story along.  I thought that Juliet’s journal, so rough and enticing with it’s humanity and crossed-out sections, so obviously important and beautifully highlighted in the structure of her chapters, was an addition that added a lot of heart to the book.  She is a character you want to embrace, to cheer for.

Watching Simon in action is like watching an accident about to happen.  Stop! Don’t go there! Quit while you’re ahead!  But, of course, without his poor decision making there could be no story, right?  He also provides some much-needed humour that will make you chuckle.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book…and will most likely sleep with the lights on for a few nights (not that that would help…right, Simon??)


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