King of the Road
King of the Road, a disturbing thriller that hurtles along at a cracking pace, centres on David Kingsgrove, a single man who is flabbergasted to discover a surprise cache of child porn downloads on his computer.
Later the same day, David’s 11-year-old nephew, Andrew, goes missing while in his care. The scenes that follow Andrew’s abduction are expertly written, describing a sickening mix of panic and fear as David realises his nephew may end up in the sort of images that mysteriously appeared on his laptop.
Suspicion quickly falls on David, who realises his fate is sealed when police confiscate his computer. Knowing that police computer experts will recover the disturbing images, David goes on the run. His plan? To rescue Andrew and smash the paedophile ring, all while evading police capture.
Sydney journalist and editor Nigel Bartlett’s writing style is punchy, with short, gruff sentences that give the story a blokey feel. That very much suits the main character, but a little more tonal variation between characters would not have gone astray. At times, it seems everyone in this book is addressing each other as “mate”.
The blokeyness is also a result of the vast majority of characters being men. Kingsgrove is thrust into the worlds of violent crime, paedophile rings and the police force, which tend to be male domains. But it isn’t until the second half of the book that we meet our first significant female “good guy”. Other characters, such as Andrew’s mother and grandmother, make appearances earlier, but they’re not portrayed very favourably (although the mother is given a welcome reprieve by the end).
Fair warning, too: Bartlett’s subject is a paedophile ring that preys on boys. The horror these abductees go through is hinted at, rather than graphically described (thank goodness). But the descriptions of the child porn images and the home studio where attacks on boys are filmed might be too much for some.
For the rest, King of the Road is a thrilling whodunit, and it would be easy to devour this page-turner on a plane flight or over a weekend.
It’s not great literature, but it’s not trying to be. Instead, the aim is to deliver a well-researched story that sucks you in from the first page, that scares and intrigues you to the very end, and Bartlett has well and truly got the job done. LL
Vintage, 336pp, $32.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 14, 2015 as "Nigel Bartlett, King of the Road". Subscribe here.