Review: Cemetery Road By Gar Anthony Haywood
By Tim Chamberlain
Gar Anthony Haywood, author of the Aaron Gunner Mysteries, delivers an intricate and thoughtful crime story with his newest novel, Cemetery Road.
The story centers on Errol ‘Handy’ White, who returns from Minnesota to his hometown of Los Angeles to attend the funeral of an old friend who was murdered. This friend, RJ Burrows, and another friend (O’Neal Holden, now a local politician) committed a heist with Handy that went terribly wrong 26 years ago, thus causing Handy’s flight to the Midwest. Handy, who is still wracked with guilt about these tragic events, is convinced that RJ’s death is connected somehow. Cemetery Road follows Handy’s journey to attempt to find the truth, and, as a consequence, confront the past he has been avoiding.
Haywood skillfully alternates between telling the present-day story of Handy and revealing the actual events of the bungled heist. This method allows him to layer the two stories, slowly revealing the details of the robbery while Handy continues his investigation of RJ’s murder in the present day. His ability to keep the tension built in both storylines makes this a difficult book to put down.
One of the hallmarks of Cemetery Road is the way Haywood makes Los Angeles almost into its own character. His rich descriptions of LA, both of the people and the landscape, give the reader a rich backdrop on which to paint the characters. This especially gives Handy’s interactions with the city an extra depth as he is reminded of the city he left 26 years earlier.
Handy is a richly drawn character, and Haywood is at his best when describing his protagonist’s thoughts and feelings. Handy acknowledges his flaws and past mistakes with regret, but often feels powerless to change things. Despite the fact that he was a petty thief as a young man, he seems to be deeply moral and set on attempting to right past wrongs. This is a flawed man, and he knows it, but he is determined to make the best of what he has left of his life.
Haywood touches on several themes throughout the book, such as not being able to go home again, having to confront your past, and attempting to correct past mistakes. Handy’s journey through Los Angeles is one traveled with regret, but also a hope that things can be put right. Haywood combines a skilled portrait of a man haunted by his past with a gripping heist story, and he produces a top-notch piece of crime fiction.