Friday, December 15, 2017

Outrider #03 - Blood Highway

Richard Harding’s third ‘Outrider’ entry is “Blood Highway”. It was released in 1984 through Pinnacle. Unlike it’s predecessor, “Fire and Ice”, and contrary to the book’s title, Harding actually slows the highway action down for this stock-still adventure starring our hero Bonner and his “strong man” friends The Mean Brothers. While the series first novel, “The Outrider”, worked extremely well with the “road warrior” styled mentality, “Fire and Ice” was a little too sporadic and uneven to fully expand the book’s elementary plot – finding gasoline. After the second entry, I had really decided not to pursue the series any further. Thankfully, I had a change of heart.

“Blood Highway” centers the action in the southwestern US, an area now known as the Hotstates. Here, the Mississippi River dried up and what’s left is a barren wasteland. Like the Slavestates ran by the tyrant Leatherman, the Hotstates are ruled with an iron fist by a guy named Berger. He runs his own gang of enforcement known as the Devils. As the book begins, Bonner and The Mean Brothers are in the Hotstates (Texas I believe) grabbing a supply of meat to return for supplies in Chicago. They clash with a group of Devils where Bonner sees a peculiar little .22 rifle bearing a familiar slogan – “Bobby. His Gun”. This inscription apparently means a lot to Bonner and Harding soon explains why.

In prior years, Bonner had met a warm, wholesome family in a community aptly title Almost Normal. Here, things are the closest to what we know as everyday suburbia – houses, lawns, fences and barbecues. At one point, Bonner was even asked to stay, but he declined knowing his rebel spirit would never let him settle down. Bonner had befriended a boy in the community named Bobby and taught him to shoot using that same rifle. Fearing that the community had been attacked, Bonner and The Mean Brothers head north to check on the town. To their horror, they find the whole community wiped out and its residents hanging on poles. Bonner knows the survivors have been taken as slaves by the Devils and a slave farmer named Farkas.

Harding really carves out a simple plot – rescue the good guys from the bad. It’s elementary, redundant…but so much fun here. Bonner teams up with a motorcycle gang of midgets called The Lashmen to attack Farkas’ compound and free all the slaves. The author moves the pace along without dwelling too much on Bonner’s strategic plans. Its simple efficiency is ultimately its best asset. While it reads comparably to an ‘M.I.A. Hunter’ book (scout the camp, attack the camp, freedom!), it works extremely well here. Farkas is the despicable character we love to hate while a little focus on The Mean Brothers is exactly what ‘Outrider’ fans wanted.

“Blood Highway” certainly doesn’t pave over any unfamiliar territory. We’ve read this story numerous times. Yet Harding is a crafty storyteller and the heart of the book is it’s good versus evil clash with a clear winner. Gunfights, fistfights, car chases and a great sense of humor are winning ingredients for this entry. “Blood Highway” picks up the same sense of enjoyment as its debut and hopefully will propel that vibe into the fourth volume. I’m riding shotgun for this.