Ribbon Reviews for The Railroad:
(These are similar to our Bookworm reviews, but they are
not submitted by our in-house reviewers. Each Ribbon Review corresponds to the matching color of our Bookworm reviews.)
The author is great at describing people and their habits. Mike Dobbs getting to know Megan, the little girl was great reading, I was riveted to this part of the story and could feel for them all as things go disastrously wrong when he was trying so hard to do the right thing. There is something about this book, once I got into it, I found hard to put down.
Often the main character was busy doing nothing except drinking and strangely, I was hanging onto every word.
Some things did not make sense to me, or I was unable to understand. In the book, people were being kidnapped and the numbers 451 was written in their blood on whatever object was nearby or on what they were being taken from. Each time this happened, it was told in italics and in the present tense. Then, it moved back to the story and the kidnapping was being reported to by the local news. Each time there was one, the mother and child were mentioned, except for the last one. When the news report came in, it was a different mother and child. And some of the minor characters had the same name. I know people do in real life, but I’ve not come across it in a book before.
Dobbs talks about a serial killer on the loose, but these people were being kidnapped and there was never any reference murders. There were never any bodies found, so I was slightly confused over that.
The ending, was good, although I found it difficult to believe that Dobbs would be quite happy pretending that he had gone mad. Surely there would be an element of embarrassment, with what he had to do? I didn’t quite understand where they were going in the end.
Despite a lot of the story being confusing or making complete sense to me. I couldn’t put the book down and every page was one that I wanted to turn over and read the next bit.
Submitted by Karen J Mossman
This title has earned a GOLD Ranking badge, meaning it has received at least three GOLD Bookworm reviews. The author can display or share this badge anywhere he deems appropriate to proclaim that this title earned the highest rating we offer at the Readers Review Room!
People are involved in the drama of their day and negotiating that race course we call life until they become caught in the moment that forever changed history: 911. Yet, while the World Trade Center tragedy frames the background narrative, there is a deeper mystery afoot, one involving mysterious abductions, a cryptic number that keeps emerging at crime scenes, the promise of an "underground railroad" for women and children fleeing domestic abuse, and one man's quest to reinvent himself following that tragic event that reshaped the world.
Newton is an astute writer and arguably an attentive student of both history and psychology using both disciplines to his full creative advantage.
The central protagonist, Mike Dobbs, a New Yorker, enjoys tremendous success in the high stakes, high stress world of corporate America. However, the trappings of professional success don't make him happy. When September 11, 2001 occurred, Mike endured a traumatic experience in a subway car while the Towers collapsed above. This experience caused him to reevaluate his priorities and to leave the frenzied city for a quieter lifestyle.
Although 911 is the catalyst for Mike, what Newton does here is incredible: he creates a suspenseful mystery centered on abductions of women embroiled in domestic upheaval. One woman Eileen and her young daughter Megan, figure predominantly in the plot. Eileen and Megan flee Bob Benoit (Eileen's husband and Megan's father) who allegedly abused his daughter. How these characters are integrated into Mike's life is a testament to Newton's skill as a writer. Newton is fully equipped to handle character development and plot without missing a beat.
If anything Mike serves as an interesting anti hero. He is an unapologetic alcoholic who is emotionally damaged, but risks everything to help Eileen and Megan. Here is a man who willingly isolates himself from humanity and finds false comfort in alcohol. I suspect that Newton's writing genius is rooted in the gamble of making Mike (who has unlikable attributes) emerge as an unsung hero of sorts.
The Railroad is not an easy book to read because its intense themes will weigh quite heavily on the reader. In addition, I found that there was a revolving door of supporting characters who add to the rich tapestry of this book, as does Newton's writing style that effectively boasts descriptive brilliance and realistic dialogue. Further, there are so many emotionally damaged characters engaged with wrestling their inner demons. Newton, the student of psychology that I feel that he is, doesn't offer an easy fix nor does he neatly resolve things at the end of the book. Finally, the chapters proceed with an interesting rhythm: some chapters are more slow moving to reflect Mike's introspection of the world around him while others are clearly action packed leaving readers just as exhausted as Mike is. I would argue that reader exhaustion in this case is a good thing because it is akin to becoming so emotionally invested in a powerful book.
I give The Railroad a Gold Book Worm Rating for its ingenious premise, its willingness to tackle difficult themes, its layered characters and its marvelous writing.
Author Neil Douglas Newton begins his literary suspense novel, The Railroad, on that fateful morning. The protagonist, Mike, is heading to work in downtown Manhattan. His life as a high flying Wall Street guru is knocked to pieces and he falls apart, much as the Twin Towers did.
He escapes to his cabin in upstate New York and sinks into a pit of drinking and despair. He begins to save himself when he is confronted by a new tragedy that also results in broken lives- child and spouse abuse. Mike doesn’t know why women and their children are escaping their abusive spouses via an “underground railroad”, but when he has the opportunity to save a mother and her daughter, he battles his demons and theirs, to help them.
The Railroad is a long and well-written literary mystery. Readers should be prepared for good writing and a rather slow paced story. I found it hard to bond with Mike, partly because he is never physically described and partly because his need to drink large amounts of alcohol everyday put me off. That being said, the other characters, especially the abused mother and daughter that Mike learns to love are well-drawn and appealing. The mystery and suspense of the story are well-presented, as is the internal drama that Mike himself faces.
Readers may want to pour themselves a tumbler of scotch, which is Mike’s preferred drink, as they ponder this interesting book.
The author paints a vivid picture of the 9/11 disaster and its aftermath and captures the emotional turmoil of survivors who were forced to pick up the pieces of their lives afterwards. As the main character struggles to deal with his own demons, he leaves his home in New York City to find solace in his run-down vacation home, where he is asked by a friend to do a favor for a woman and her daughter who are in a domestic abuse situation. He offers his home as a safe haven for a few days until they can be moved by an underground group called The Railroad, but instead he is pulled in for the long haul. Throw in a string of kidnappings, a stalking, some mysterious postcards, and a road trip that takes him all across New England, and you will find yourself just as emotionally involved and exhausted as the main character.
This debut novel by Neil Douglas Newton is an intriguing story of abuse and survival, and you’ll find yourself cheering for Mike Dobbs to finally find the peace and happiness he deserves.
This book was recommended to me by a friend who knows I like to read serious books. And this is not a fun, beach, snack book. This is a serious meal you need to sink your teeth into and think. The author has decided to tackle plenty of important, real life situations, and it’s far easier to dig our heads into reality shows than deal with reality.
As you follow the developments in the life of Mike Dobbs, his transformations and turbulence, cleverly told in first person, you will question his decisions, go with him through his 9-11 experience (excellent scene in the subway and consequences mentioned subsequently), a bitter, cold, dying relationship, utter depression and then – the unexpected change. When Mike drinks, when he is insensitive to the Dennis or Barbara, when he thinks of how to get rid of Eileen and Megan, he is what he is, a traumatised average man hardened by the alienation of modern life, yet doomed to reluctant kindness, generosity and heroism when face to face with a person in real trouble. It’s the damaged souls guiding damaged souls, like the blind leading the blind, but still sticking together. There is good in us humans, despite the bad in us. Mike is the kind of hero I like – almost an antihero, an accidental hero who never sees himself as such because he himself is so rundown and empty that even the author makes no excuses for him. All the characters are realistic and intriguing, even the five-second appearances (the girl in the cybercafe, the innkeeper couple in a small town), and their psychology is really well-expressed, shown, not preached. I will not divulge my favourites to avoid spoilers.
The cover itself is not a compromising one – there is no couple to inspire romantic notions, although a huge portion of the story deals with relationships – romantic, family and friendships. There is no blood gushing, although the story is far from a gentle one. The title is not only an important literal image in the story, but also a metaphor, and the railroad puns and analogies woven into the plot have been placed there naturally, almost unnoticeably, yet emphasizing the message, using both the positive and negative connotations of it (travelling, discovering your paths, traditional settings, as opposed to being derailed, railroaded, cheated and defeated, whether by cunning or violence, etc.)
The initial chapters are not your average writing style and popular writers’ vernacular, which grabbed my attention with plenty of interesting lines and expressions, which obviously come naturally and follow the events without distracting the reader. This style blends into more action in the second part of the book, as the story itself twists and turn that way. I enjoyed the excellent, flowing dialogues, quite an original line of thinking, and blending dialogue and character’s thoughts seamlessly yet clearly defined. The language flows with impact, sometimes even like an old black-and-white detective movie or even a movie done in comic-book style.
The Railroad is a book not easily-digested, because of the topic – heavy, gruesome subjects people want to avoid but need to talk about and read about. You will want to drop it at times, because it might hit too close to home, but as soon as you put it down, you will want to get back to it. You will want to see how it turns out. Alienation, terrorism, child abuse, disfunctional marriages, detached relationships, dying friendships, inadequacy in the simplest intimate situations, post-traumatic stress, loneliness, disregard for common decency, system failures, bribe and the cowardice of laws, alcoholism, conformity… There are no comic reliefs, the readers will not be pampered with easily-digestible scenes or easy, rose-coloured romance, and Mike’s battle is constant and relentless. At times there is even an unusual, erratic pace of telling events, showing the mess in Mike’s mind and soul, all strongly tied into the plot as the web thickens towards the end. After the entire ordeal, you will wonder whether Mike continued the search out of bravery, stubborness, pure love, madness or the simple need for closure. But hang in there – like life, it is all worth it. There is nothing average about Mike – the average person stays away or gives in. Mike doesn’t.
The ending might surprise you, and goes to prove that the most unlikely heroes, the ones who don’t go looking for it, are the ones who do chage the world, one act at a time. There is a slight feeling of bitterness and injustice, knowing Mike’s sacrifice. But then again, the loveliest roses need thorns. gold_bookworm
The characters are well developed and believable. The writing was intelligent and engaging, and provided plot twists which kept me turning page after page. But the best part was the ending! I had a suspicion of who was behind the “underground railroad” operation, but the way it was written still kept me glued to the pages until the very end.
I don’t like to “retell” stories in my reviews, so if you’d like to know specifically what the plot is about, read the blurb I’ve provided below, and then READ THE BOOK if you are ready for a thrilling ride!
If you enjoy a good “who done it” (even though, technically there isn’t much *death* to speak of in this story) I highly recommend this one. It has murder, suspense, romance, and a familial tone to it.
I will definitely be checking out future titles by this author!