One of the reasons I read (and write) crime novels is to experience danger without suffering any of the consequences. Call it what you will. Escapism. Wish fulfillment. Fantasy. But whatever label you want to put on it, I would argue it is a healthy way to indulge, and David Housewright’s PI novel Highway 61 is one thoroughly satisfying indulgence, a book totally worthy of adverbs.
In Highway 61, Rushmore McKenzie (great name!) is a recent millionaire and unlicensed PI who does favors for his friends, or in this case, the daughter of the woman he loves. The daughter’s father, a lowlife with a taste for barely legal girls named Jason Truhler, is being blackmailed. It doesn’t take McKenzie very long before he figures out Truhler has fallen victim to the classic Honey Pot scam. A bit more digging and all manner of unsavory characters come crawling out of the dirt: a pair of murderous brothers referred to as the Joes, a serial arsonist named Bug, a Machiavellian fixer called Muehlenhaus, and a teenage callgirl-come-blackmailer named Vicki Walsh at the center of it all. With a sordid cast of characters like that, the action is bound to reach a fever pitch, and in a hurry, which it does.
Aside from the requisite car chases and physical confrontations between McKenzie and the bad guys, all of which are expertly written and kept me up past my bedtime, this novel does something quite interesting: it uses Highway 61 as both a setting for the action and as a metaphor. The highway represents moral decay, and McKenzie must traverse this highway and save the day, all while maintaining his own moral compass. Pretty deep stuff, especially for such a fun read.
This was my first encounter with Rushmore McKenzie, but it won’t be my last. I’m planning my own trip down the highway soon. . .to pick up another of Housewright’s novels. Hopefully, I won’t come across any blackmailers or armed assailants as I prefer to keep my fantasy life separate from my real one.