Book Review: Highwayman by Craig Saunders

Cover via DarkFuse.

It’s a bit hard for me to really talk about how I felt while reading Highwayman by Craig Saunders. To some extent, I feel that I may not know as much about old lore and mythology as I thought I did – and that’s definitely a possibility. The concept behind the book is intriguing, but there are many elements of Saunders’ story that failed to satisfy me.

In the wake of a plane crash, Karl Goodman finds himself in-between life and death – a sort of limbo that I felt was reminiscent of an episode of Supernatural where Castiel and Dean are fighting vampires in purgatory. I say this largely because of the whole Fog-World/forest atmosphere. In this surreal world, a murderer from centuries past is able to cross the lines between the worlds of the living and dead to continue visiting his reign of horror upon unsuspecting individuals. Guided by the Deans, who appear to be a set of reapers, for lack of a better term (or maybe ferrymen), and a young, comatose girl named Imke, Karl finds himself seeking out this murderous highwayman so that he can exact revenge for his daughter’s death.

While I have a strong love for the supernatural and paranormal, I couldn’t help but find myself confused more often than not by several aspects of the story. I am, admittedly, ignorant of the White Hart and the Green Man, but I like to think I’m a bit more versed in the many varieties of spooks. In fact, Saunders portrayal of a barrow-wight did not stray unreasonably far from its native draugr. What does baffle me though is how Saunders introduces these supernatural elements into his book. When I received Highwayman, I was expecting something dark and macabre that dealt with… well, with highwaymen. The main villain of the tale is precisely that, but the book itself is largely a ghost story. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but it simply did not sit very well with me.

To further complicate the telling of the story, there are far too many differing points of view – five or six, total. (I can’t remember if there was a part told from Mr. Dean’s perspective.) This makes it hard to keep track of the passage of time, and whether or not that is intentional, I found it bothersome. For instance, at one point Bethany, Karl’s wife, does something. Then, for several chapters, the story does not return to her. In fact, the disparity between returning to her point of view was so great that I actually thought that Saunders had forgotten about her.

One of the other issues that bothered me was the circumstances of Karl and Bethany’s daughter’s death. At first it is explained as a drowning, but then later we learn it was not. Apparently her murder was so horrid that Karl conveniently blocked the tragedy from his mind with a far more “rational” explanation, and to me this felt more like slapping a bandaid on a forgotten plot element than something that was done naturally.

At no point during my reading of this book did I feel any sort of emotion or attachment to any of the characters, and I found that to be extremely disappointing. The cast of Highwayman are not, in any way, extraordinary (well, not depth wise), and that made it harder for me to get into the book.

Overall, I didn’t care much for Highwayman; however I will not let that discourage me from reading more of Saunders’ work in the future. As part of the DarkFuse Reader’s Group, I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank DarkFuse, Craig Saunders, and NetGalley for this opportunity.

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