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I always look forward to what Lou Berney writes. Though his books share certain themes, every book is different and he views those themes at numerous angles. One could argue his latest, Dark Ride, combines his the tone of his his earlier satirical takes to this recent more more somber work.

The humor comes from his lead character, Hardy Reed, whose slacker life and and attitude earned him him the name "Hardly". He scrapes out a living working as a character in a third rate haunted western town, spending his off hours smoking pot with two friends that never seem to leave their couch. Partially raised by a single mother before she died early in his upbringing, then by indifferent foster parents, he expects little from life and himself.

That life is upended when paying a parking ticket at the court building, he talks to two little kids on a bench. Before the mother whisks them away, he notices what appears to be cigarette burns on them. He files a report to child services, but soon learns that's going nowhere. He gets help from an anti-social goth girl at the municipal building, a geeky coworker at the haunted town, and a former private detective turned real estate agent and attempts to reach out the children. The results are getting roughed up by some thugs. This makes him even more determined.

Berny strikes a perfect balance between the humor of Hardly's life and outlook and the serious situation he becomes involved in. His work life at the amusement park provides many of the laughs as well as some of the trial and error and goes through with learning to be a detective. With the background of losing his mother, we buy into the crusade that draws him out of his mobile life. The humor also provides a contrast to bring out the story's more harrowing aspects.

Dark Ride proves to be one of the most engaging books of the year. Lou Berney gives us a protagonist we root for not only to save the day but to improve his life. The storytelling is crisp and clear with deft, nuanced touches that give it a grounded quality. Can't wait to see where he goes next.

-review by Scott Montgomery


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