We start out with young Ruben Ford having a psychic experience, learning that somebody has killed his sister Rachel. Then the police show up and inform his mother (Mary) and his brother (Cole), his father is in prison for manslaughter, that his Rachel's body has been found, and it hadn't been an easy death. Ruben has another vision, and he knows that the person who killed Rachel is now also dead. Then the police inform the Fords they can't take Rachel home until her murder is solved.
Ruben's is a tough family of lower class, Irish/English citizens, they have no faith that the police will find out who killed Rachel, or why, and they don't care. Ruben and Cole are dispatched by Mary to go to Dartmoor to retrieve Rachel's body and bring her home, and to do this they have to find out who killed her, and where his body is buried.
Arriving in Dartmoor, they call Abbie, Rachel's friend, the woman that she spent her last night with, and arrange for her to put them up. Right away they know that something is wrong, as Ruben and Cole can get no answers or service in the local tavern, the local police warn them off, there is an attempted assault, and it seems that most of the businesses have closed up, making Dartmoor a virtual ghost town.
Abbie is not happy to see them, and seems to be hiding something, her husband Vince is even less happy, and seems to be hiding even more.
The more that they ask, the more they are threatened, and there are several violent confrontations and they are taken in finally by gypsies, who had a vision themselves that Dartmoor was the place that they had to relocate to.
Things start to unravel as the Ford boys are nobody to mess with. Cole is taciturn and cold, but also prone to sudden violence, and is as tough and hard as nails, and Ruben is quick, smart, and has psychic visions, and both are as stubborn as they come. They are not leaving until their job is done.
This is a hardboiled crime drama and mystery in the manner of the hardboiled crime melodramas of the fifties and early sixties. It's not for the squeamish, as Brooks does not tap dance around any of the violence or menace. Young Ruben is tortured and beaten, the racism against the gypsies is never glossed over, and Cole's violence becomes deadly.
The main problem is an over reliance on Ruben's astral projection. In the last fourth of the "Road Of The Dead" everything happens off stage and we only know of it through Ruben's visions. This feels like a cheat. Everything in the novel happens in real time, and we experience everything in its full force, and then the last quarter happens and we are totally distanced from it, and I felt cheated.
The ending though is just as tough as the rest of the novel, and there isn't a feel-good clean-cut ending. This is a hardboiled crime novel remember, nothing is ever easy, and there are almost never any winners. Four stars because of the over reliance on Ruben's visions in the novel's last quarter, which keep it from getting the full five. Otherwise, a tough crime novel that pulls no punches and Brooks writes down to no one. For mid- to later teens and up, but not for the real young, and not for the weak.