Review: Rough Way to the High Way by Kelly Mack McCoy
Pastor turned long-haul trucker, Mack, struggles with grief and perceived failures as a minister while he is confronted with a mysterious hitchhiker, smugglers, and a determined killer. A journey that began as a search for solitude and windshield therapy after his wife Georgia's murder becomes a high stakes adventure as a Texas Ranger and high ranking FBI agent seek to track down her killer.
#1 This is a long review, so pull up a chair and grab a bowl of popcorn. You'll be here awhile. #2 When I read a review, I want substantial information. So I will not skimp on the details. Which will mean some spoilers, so watch out.
I was pleasantly surprised, once I scrolled onto the first page of Kelly Mack McCoy’s debut novel, to find it well-written, edited, and formatted. (Once I researched Elm Hill, I was again surprised to learn about HarperCollins’ independent-publishing imprint!) Don’t be fooled—this is not your average indie book, debut novel, or mystery.
I wasn’t quite sure in the beginning where the mystery, danger, or excitement was coming in. Like other readers, I felt a lag—but the story began to pick up as I met new characters, learned more about Mack (our preacher-trucker-detective protagonist), and sensed the encroaching danger.
The overall plot of Rough Way to the High Way is a little...undefinable. There’s no perceivable beginning, middle, or end—it’s one event after the other along the road to Chicago. This is both an escapist thriller and the spiritual journey of our hero Mack, as he struggles with grief over his wife’s death (which he believes was actually murder) and his lack of purpose now that he’s quit the ministry.
For readers who like a strong, well thought-out, defined book with a step-by-step plot, this book isn’t for you. It’s a little too close to our protagonist, a little too unexpected, and a little too much fun!
In some ways, I think having a stronger plot (with all the proper incidents and climaxes) might have been preferred. It would have given the story a backbone and made things flow better than being figuratively smacked in in the face by new happenings. In other ways, however, I can how see the escapism (which I mean in a nice way, y’all) and the wild road we travel with Mack makes the story better and more intriguing.
We don’t really get to know anyone as well as Mack. The secondary characters—Barb, Ricky, Ben, etc.—stay a respectable arm’s length away from our protagonist. That allows us to grow with Mack and feel for him, even if the story’s written in a limited third-person perspective.
As for Mack, he’s got the tough, kind of sarcastic demeanor we associate with truckers, but his faith in God gives him a relatable, approachable air. We don’t ever get fully into his perspective (which I missed...first-person POV might have made the story even richer), but we get to know him like we would the fun uncle who always gives us candy and plays catch with the boys.
His story, faith, and journey are so relatable! I honestly feel like the author pulled from not only his own experiences with trucking but also from life lessons and his relationship with God. Mack had his faults (such as being a little gullible), but he had a lot going for him, which made him a lovable protagonist.
Well, suffice it to say I learned a lot about trucking! That aspect of the novel was executed perfectly, of course. Everything felt so real (maybe a little 1980s-’90s, but those decades just fit the aura much better, if you know what I mean!), but I will admit that the other stuff was a bit lacking.
I feel like McCoy was trying to do a wee bit too much. I mean, terrorists tied to his wife’s murder? Government cover-ups? I don’t know. The big-city crimes didn’t jive with the small town trucking aura. Of course, once you tie in the supernatural elements, you’re left with either the whole spice cabinet in your gumbo or a really flavorful soup—it all depends on your perspective. For some, I think the combination would work. For me, I would have liked either or—a slow mystery on the dusty highway out of Texas or a thrilling battle between the government and terrorists.
Either way, he tied everything together, left no loose ends, and created a convincing mystery—one that was full of twists and turns! Even though Mack’s Heaven and Hell encounters kind of came out of nowhere, I think they were well-executed and played into Mack’s journey well. (And, of course, I love a well-executed encounter scene!)
McCoy has a strong, straightforward prose. It’s even and stable, balanced between description and, well, non-description. I missed getting closer to Mack, missed the emotion, and missed hearing his voice. However, the author had a clean voice and polished prose.
And, just throwing this in for extra, I really liked his naming of the other characters—like Mr. Tire Man and Officer Pipe Cleaner. I’ve done the same before, so it’s great to see another author do so! And the cemetery/seminary confusion only serves to make Mack seem more real, and both things give him and the story more flavor!
Long Story Short…
I honestly was surprised by how good Rough Way to the High Way was. It had its low points, yes, but McCoy gave us a strong escapist story that thrills, excites, and inspires. Mack is a fun, relatable character, and his journey is one that speaks to us all (even if we weren’t involved in murders and schemes to take over the world)!
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book and payment for an honest review. All the opinions expressed above are my own.
Where to Find the Book
About the Author
Kelly Mack McCoy traveled the highways most of his adult life gathering a lifetime of material for his books. He chose to pursue a life-long dream of becoming an author after a life-altering event changed the trajectory of his life. He teamed up with author John Floyd Mills, a former writer with the now defunct San Antonio Light Newspaper to write a series of novels about a pastor turned trucker who hits the road after his wife’s death. The two never wrote the novels due to quite different writing styles. John went on to write his second novel alone. Kelly Mack McCoy continued with the pastor turned trucker project on his own, but it took another life-changing event for him to be motivated to see the project through to completion. That event was the Death of John Floyd Mills. The completed project would become the highly acclaimed novel, Rough Way to the High Way.