Not often do you find a novella that combines dark humor, philosophy, suspense and good storytelling, but Hammurabi Road by Steve Vernon manages to do it. The story starts off with three men in a truck driving to a remote area in Ontario to kill a fourth man who is tied up in the back. The three men in the front are Irvin, Donny and Hanny, who is telling the story. The man in back is Tyree.
Tyree has been accused by Irvin of starting a fire which burned down a hotel and killed Irvin’s brother. The three men are planning on enacting a little vigilante justice by leaving Tyree on a set of railroad tracks in the middle of nowhere as a train comes through. Things get complicated though when they slam the truck into a bear and some of the passengers start to have doubts over their objective.
The best part of Hammurabi Road is the dialogue between the characters. I loved how in the beginning Hanny and Donny were talking about things like rotten smells and the effect of a train hitting an animal, while Irvin remained silent. I felt this was a great way to introduce the characters. Irvin is the leader of the group, he is determined and has a bad temper while the others are talking because they are nervous and not sure if they are doing the right thing. This all came through in the opening dialogue and it was a great way to set up the story.
I also liked how the characters made observations about their surroundings as their situation is going badly. For instance when the truck hits the bear and all hell breaks loose, Hany points out the cigarette burn in the truck cab and what it looks like. To me that’s great storytelling because even in a bad situation people still notice things like that.
Another thing I liked about the book is how the author adds humor to a story that’s pretty disturbing at times. The scene with the bear is suspenseful but what they do to the bear made me laugh and cringe at the same time. I felt sorry for the bear but he takes the whole situation very well. Later in the book there is an exciting scene between the three characters as the train comes down the tracks to obliterate Tyree, this was just as suspenseful as the bear scene.
I’m not going to claim to understand everything in this story but I did enjoy it. The characters were all great, I loved the setting and while the idea of revenge is a theme in a lot of books, Steve Vernon manages to give a fresh perspective on it. In the books I’ve read by Steve Vernon he manages to make Canada itself into a character through dialogue and how the people act. It reminds me of how Stephen King makes Maine a character in his books. If you haven’t read anything by Steve Vernon, Hammurabi Road is a good place to start. Steve is a great storyteller and I hope he gets more attention for his work.