Hope Road Review
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Amateur sleuths come in all shapes and sizes—everything from sweet little old ladies to wise old reporters. But author John Barlow’s intriguing new hero, John Ray, promises to be unlike any sleuth you’ve met before.

John Ray comes from a notorious family. The son of crime boss Tony Ray, he spent most of his life running away, trying to escape the notoriety and suspicion that came with his last name. Then, two years ago, after witnessing his brother’s murder, he decided to return home to Leeds, to turn his father’s used car dealership into a legitimate business.

John seems to have finally earned the trust of the community—even accepting an award for his successful business—when it all comes crashing down. The body of a woman is found in the trunk of one of his cars, stashed away with loads of counterfeit cash. His friend and salesman, Freddy, goes missing, instantly turning him into a murder suspect. And, just like that, the reputation that John has worked so hard to build crumbles away.

In danger of losing everything—his business, his credibility, his friend, and the cop he loves—John sets out to find the real killer.

At first, the mystery of Hope Road seems like an open-and-shut case. It’s easy to agree with John—to assume that Freddy was just a kid who got in over his head and direct your suspicion to the pair of shady Ukrainian tractor salesmen who’ve taken up residence in the cheap motel where the girl seems to have breathed her last. As the story unfolds, though, you’ll find that there’s so much more to the case—from the counterfeit money that seems to connect the murder to John and his family to the crime boss who seems bound and determined to find the girl’s killer. In fact, there’s so much going on in this tangled crime thriller that, by the end, you might not know how it all fits together.

While the intertwining stories will definitely keep you on your toes, though, the most fascinating part of Hope Road is its complex hero. The “good son” of an infamous crime boss, John Ray has tried everything to escape his family’s name. He’s moved away to study. He’s worked as an accountant. He even thought about becoming a cop. Yet, all these years later, he finds himself back home, trying to make a new name for himself as a good guy.

Despite his good intentions, though, John is still Tony Ray’s son—which means that he has an intimate knowledge of a different world. His contacts—and his own personal history—open doors that are kept closed and securely locked when the police come around. So, being the good guy (and concerned friend) that he is, he decides to help the police out—no matter how nervous it makes the local crims.

John Ray is an unlikely hero—the kind that you’ll enjoy getting to know. Unfortunately, though, a surprising revelation toward the end of the novel will turn your perceptions of him on their head—and not necessarily for the better.

The first novel in a new crime series, Hope Road introduces a fascinating new character with a shady past and a questionable future. Though the story is rather complicated—and not entirely satisfying—the character alone will keep you reading. And, when you come to the novel’s end, you’ll be curious to find out where Barlow plans to take John Ray in upcoming installments.

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