Tamara Thorne,
Thunder Road
(Pocket, 1995; Pinnacle, 2004)

Thunder Road is a busy place. There's a serial killer at work, and another may be waiting on the curb. UFOs have been sighted, along with government agents who may or may not be responsible for them. Livestock have gone missing from the local shepherdess, and the town's real live cowboy is rounding up and moving out religious fanatics intent on invading the local theme park. It's a mad jumble of plots from westerns, thrillers and sci-fi dystopias.

The core of it all is the UFOs, the sheep-stealing mystery machines that draw everyone together. The UFOs are a ready symbol to all who see them, always standing in for some other goal. Yet the UFOs themselves never have much to do. They make a grand entrance, fire a few beams and leave, with no explanation or permanent sense of presence. They're a useful McGuffin, to unite characters as disparate as serial killers, desert researchers and shepherds, but never independent forces with their own story.

That places the burden of the drama on Thorne's characters. There she produces a few strong turns of craft. Turning a serial killer into a sympathetic character, almost a romantic lead, is no small trick. Converting a con artist to a genuine preacher without straining the character's credibility may be even more impressive. Thorne delivers these grand transformations with an offhand grace that makes them even more impressive.

It also highlights the limits of her other characters. When dealing with her less extreme personalities, Thorne leans hard on stock characters. The cast members are often combined in entertaining ways, but that's not enough to shed the nagging suspicion that most of Thorne's world is staffed by mannequins, being moved through the motions of a plot.

Yet taken as a whole, Thunder Road is at least entertaining. It's not the deepest story, and a few ends are left flapping far too loose. But if you don't go looking for answers, or expect a religious experience, Thunder Road might leave you with a decent story to tell the grandkids.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 13 August 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.