Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Book review: Last Bus to Coffeeville by J. Paul Henderson


My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 23rd April 2014 by No Exit Press, 384 pages.

Description: Nancy Skidmore has Alzheimer's and Eugene Chaney III once more a purpose in life – to end hers.

When the moment for Gene to take Nancy to her desired death in Coffeeville arrives she is unexpectedly admitted to the secure unit of a nursing home and he is constrained to call upon the help of his two remaining friends: Bob Crenshaw, a man who has been officially dead for forty years, and Jack Guravitch, a disgraced weatherman in the throes of a midlife crisis.

They 'kidnap' Nancy and drive to Mississippi in a stolen tour bus once owned by Paul McCartney. Along the way they are joined by a young orphan boy called Eric who is searching for his only surviving family member – an exotic dancer named Susan.

Rating:



I seem to go through phases where I fall in love with a particular genre of novels. A few years ago it was young adult supernatural stories, then The Hunger Games pulled me into the dystopian genre, for some explicable reason after that I made the leap to chick-lit, which eventually evolved into more substantial women's fiction, and right now I am in love with quirky literary fiction along the likes of Where'd You Go Bernadette and The Rosie Project. Last Bus to Coffeeville definitely falls in that category as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, which was an enlightening bus ride through different times and places. As each of the main characters gets introduced, we journey through their history and that of their ancestors which touches upon a wide variety of subjects, from slavery in America to the origin of the great pyramid in Egypt to the Cuban Revolution. While it was a lot to digest within one novel it was also fascinating and I love how after finishing the book I not only felt I had been entertained but also that I had learned something new and noteworthy along the way.

Don't let the sheer amount of history this book covers scare you off or make you assume that this is a dry bit of reading by the way, on contrary. It's all told with a lot of flair and humour, even if the latter is very morbid at times. Point in case: a mother and child getting killed by a giant donut. Sounds just a teensy bit out of the box doesn't it? And that's just one of the many events within the pages of this novel that sound slightly out of the ordinary. Author J. Paul Henderson has a vivid imagination, that's for sure.

What also really appealed to me was the diversity of the characters that travel together on the old Beatles tour bus the novel is titled after. From a respectable elderly doctor who 'rescues' his old friend from a nursing home to bring her to Coffeeville, the village she wants to die, to an orphaned boy who ran away from a boarding school for the deaf (because he was the only one there who wasn't actually deaf) and who now spends his spare time reading the bible to count the dead.

It all sounds strange and rather comical, but because of the layers of history within the novel it is also a very meaningful read. Add to that the heavy focus on Alzheimer's disease, and in particular the very detailed and heartbreaking insight into the rapid regression of Nancy's mind, and this becomes a fascinating and poignant novel overall.

You can pre-order a copy of the novel from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or your own preferred retailer.


Many thanks to Realreaders for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

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