Strange Highways by Dean Kootz – Audiobook Review

By Brian Moakley Jun 7, 2024 #audiobook #review

Joey Shannon is having a terrible day. Joey is bury his father. It’s a bitter homecoming. Twenty years ago, Joey left that small time and never came back. Now it’s a day of hard truths so to honor the moment, Joey stays sober for the day.

Yet, Joey has a serious problem. Not the whisky, although he suffers the shakes. Not depression although he carries a deep unresolved sadness. Rather, Joey sees visions of a bloody dead blonde, wrapped in plastic everywhere he goes.

He encounters this vision in his rental car’s trunk. Another time, he sees the strange woman lying in his father’s grave. This vision follows him through his small home town. It’s not madness or an alcoholic’s delusion. She’s almost as real as any person. Yet, she isn’t a person. She’s a marker of the past. She is a signpost of a road not taken; a strange highway of a life not lived. She’s from a life long gone but wants him back nonetheless.

The Story

Strange Highways is a powerful story by prolific horror writer Dean Kootz. The length is somewhere between a novella and a small book. For this reason, it’s often packaged with other short stories by Kootz. The audiobook is just six hours long, but it’s a powerful six hours.

The book follows Joey Shannon on his return to his hometown to resolve his father’s estate. He left so long ago to become a writer, and instead, found himself a third rate blackjack dealer who lives in the outskirts of Las Vegas. He is an alcoholic with no future in front of him.

Returning to his hometown after twenty years, Joey finds himself an outsider. He stumbles through the services, doing every thing to stay sober. All the while, the dead blonde haunts him. Things come to a pitch when he learns of his father’s will. Joey is to receive everything while his absent brother receives nothing. It’s a sizable amount, yet Joey is horrified. He stumbles out of the office, gets in his car, and vows never to return.

On the way out of town, he finds himself at a literal crossroad. One road goes to the airport. Another road goes into the darkness. It’s a road that should not exist. It was dug up twenty years ago, and yet it exists all the same. . As he stares at the strange sight, a strange car passes him, and turn into the road. It stops in the middle, beckoning him to follow.

Joey takes the road not taken and drives into the past to face the questions so long forgotten. To face the truth he has spent his whole life running from.

Is it Good?

I absolutely love this book. I first listened to it in 1999 when I was droove across the United States in hopes of starting a career in the movie industry. Thirty years later, I still feel it’s lasting impact. It’s truly a testament to the power of storytelling.

It’s also features a great setup. Joey discovers his life is tied to a strange murderer. This murderer picks off the residents of this small town one by one. It’s a great thriller weaving between the supernatural and second chances.

Yet – this is story is not for anyone. The story holds strong Catholic overtones combined with religious imagery. Having grown up Catholic, all the symbols and themes resonate for me, but you may feel very different.

This isn’t a “come to Jesus” book or hard sell of the religion, yet the religion is very much baked into the story. Joey was an altar boy and that experience deeply affects his worldview. Having grown up Catholic and looking back at my own dreams and ideals as a middle age man, I connect all too much with this story.

So your mileage may vary.

The Audiobook

This story is an easy five out of five for me. Unfortunately, the audiobook version just didn’t hold up. That’s not to say the production was bad. Jeff Cummings narrates the story and he does a “serviceable” job.

Truth be told, I first listened to this story narrated by James Spader and that version is quite simply amazing. You can actually listen to that version on YouTube. While Cummings is fine, he just can’t compare to the Spader version. Not many can.

My biggest problem with the Cummings’ version is his voice for the character Celeste. Cummings make Celeste sound almost dopey. She is quintessential in this story. She’s quick thinking and quite intelligent, yet in the audiobook, she sounds slow and meandering. I know that wasn’t the intent at all. I love her character so I’m probably just being hyper critical as Cummings does a fine job for the rest of the book.

The Verdict

4.5 out of 5 vintage mustangs

It’s an amazing story with a slightly flawed audiobook presentation. Also, keep in mind this book uses heavy religious imagery. Still, Kootz is a master writer and this novella really demonstrates his abilities in writing gripping stories as well as creating compelling characters.

Strange Highways at Audible.

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By Brian Moakley

Brian Douglas Moakley is a writer and technologist who lives amongst the quiet hills in New England. When not reading tales of high adventure, he is often telling such stories to all who will listen.

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