R.J. Ellory

Bad Signs

"This is a stellar work of fiction that deserves to be on everyone’s reading list."


Orphaned by an act of senseless violence that took their mother from them, half-brothers Clarence Luckman and Elliott Danziger have been raised in state institutions, unaware of any world outside. Their lives take a sudden turn when they are seized as hostages by a convicted killer en route to death row. Earl Sheridan is a psychopath of the worst kind, but he has the potential to change the boys' lives forever. As the trio set off on a frenetic escape from the law through California and Texas, the two brothers must come to terms with the ever-growing tide of violence that follows in their wake - something that forces them to make a choice about their lives, and their relationship to one another.

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Bad Signs is a road trip novel that sweeps you up and haunts you long after you have finished the book and set it aside. As with all of Ellory's oeuvre, we are treated to an experience that is rich with detail and heightened with emotion. In fact, so convincing is his sense of time and place that you feel you are holding a chunk of 60's Americana in your hand. The two brothers are an examination of our best and worst impulses. Why do we act the way we do? Nature or nurture? Are some people really born under a bad sign, or are those who give in to their darkest inclinations forced to do so by circumstance? The boys share different fathers, but the same mother. One brother maintains his innocence despite all of the external and internal pressures, while the other travels down a path that has only two destinations at the end: a chair wired to the national grid or a bullet. Here, in this brother's gradual deterioration, R J Ellory displays his skill as a writer. We experience the boy's influences, his neurosis and his insecurities and we are there as fully engaged observers while he takes his first tentative step into violence and his shaking, puking, terrified delight. From there, he simply can't turn back. The other brother's journey is equally compelling and the writer racks up the tension by the simple but hugely effective expedient of introducing a mix-up of identities. The “good” brother becomes the guileless prey hunted by every law-enforcement agency in the country, while his brother glee-fully goes on the hunt and punishes every imagined slight in increasingly violent ways. Will the truth become known before a “shoot to kill” order is carried out? Will your fingernails ever grow back? Maybe I'm becoming a wimp as I grow older, but there were several times during the race to the end that the tension became too much for me and I had to set the book aside for a few minutes. Now, that is good writing. This is a stellar work of fiction that deserves to be on everyone's reading list. Loved it.

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