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California Roll: A Paranormal Journey
Argent Amos, author

A dark energy has followed Noah Sowles since he was a child. As he hammers his big rig along over the backroads and highways of the country, it's only getting worse.

In the wilderness of the Northern California redwoods, he's highjacked and brutally abducted by two seedy, racist men. They deliver him to their boss, an enigmatic owner of a thriving marijuana farm. After days of struggling for his life, he accepts a dangerous, non-negotiable deal: to drive the rig loaded with seventeen tons of high potency weed to El Paso, Texas, while accompanied by one of his abductors.

Trucking with his armed captor takes a twisted turn when Noah glimpses into the dark underbelly of drug smuggling and human trafficking-he knows there is an ominously familiar evil pushing them toward their destination.

As he finally reaches the crossroads, he discovers a more nefarious, sinister and far-reaching criminal network than he could have imagined. With his own eternal fate hanging in the balance, the aging trucker uses his best wit, humor, and inner strength to survive, but realizes that nothing is as it seems when the devil is in control.

Aging trucker Noah Sowles finds himself caught up in a frightening conspiracy that keeps getting more horrific as he drives through the darkest heart of the American West, contemplating a hard life that too often has found him facing intense racism. As he tries to come to terms with his past, a pair of racist robbers kidnap and bring him to a bizarre community where he's subject to mental and physical torture. He meets with the leader, charming psychopath Scully, who needs Sowles' trucker skills, and tortures him into compliance. Sowles has to call on all his reserves and develop self-discipline to finish his journey and save both his body and mind.

A proud splicer of genres, Amos is not telling a conventional story here. He offers a thorough background on Sowles' history and thoughts in the opening pages and does a stellar job revealing not only the technical aspects of a trucker's life but the emotional toll it can take. This material compels, even though the thriller plot doesn’t truly get going until a quarter-way through the book. Amos demonstrates impressive descriptive skills throughout, but his prose is not for the faint-hearted. The torture scenes are graphic, and the dialogue is raw and wrenching, with continual use of hard-spat racial slurs.

The author beautifully limns Sowles' character as a follower of Dr. Martin Luther King and a dangerously stubborn man. His troubled past has changed his political outlook and left him cynical. Still, we see his chance to grow, as he's forcibly partnered in a crime scheme with an unapologetic racist. Their exchanges are appallingly offensive and starkly truthful, and Amos does make the effective point that the pawns in this life, no matter the race, must become allies. Still, at the end, it's Sowles on his own, coming to terms not only with his aging body, but his eternal soul in a battle against evil.

Takeaway: Hard-edged truck-driving thriller faces American racism with killer prose.

Comparable Titles: S.A. Crosby, Victor LaValle.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A