#Blogtour Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne @maclehosepress @CorinnaZifco

image001 (1)

Retribution Road by Antonin Varenne

We owe you our lives, Sergeant, but you are our worst nightmare . . .”

Burma, 1852. Sergeant Arthur Bowman, a sergeant in the East India Company, is sent on a secret mission during the Second Anglo-Burmese War. But the expedition is foiled – his men are captured and tortured. Throughout their ordeal, a single word becomes Bowman’s mantra, a word that will stiffen their powers of endurance in the face of unimaginable suffering: “Survival”. But for all that, only a handful escape with their lives.

Some years later in London, battling his ghosts through a haze of alcohol and opium, Bowman discovers a mutilated corpse in a sewer. The victim appears to have been subjected to the same torments as Bowman endured in the Burmese jungle. And the word “Survival” has been daubed in blood by the body’s side. Persuaded that the culprit is one of the men who shared his captivity, Bowman resolves to hunt him down.

From the Burmese jungle to the slums of London to the conquest of the Wild West, Antonin Varenne takes us on a thrilling journey full of sound and unabated fury, reviving the lapsed tradition of the great writers of boundless adventure. Sergeant Bowman belongs to that breed of heroes who inhabit the imaginations of Conrad, Kipling, Stevenson . . . Lost soldiers who have plunged into the heart of darkness and will cross the globe in search of vengeance and redemption.

Translated from the French by Sam Taylor

My Review

The first thing I need to mention about this novel, is that it is dark, very dark. It contained a myriad of dark themes of torture, murder, war, violence, drugs and alcoholism, but do not let that put you off because within these pages is a story that will take you from the backstreets of London to the plains of the American Wild West.

It was these wonderful settings that really made the book stand out. The images conjured up by Varenne were simply brilliant. His description of London’s Great Stink were superb and I could not help but recoil in revulsion as he described the effluence that ran through the streets and cellars and the awful conditions that the poorer residents of London had to endure. What it did do was to plunge the novel into even murkier, darker depths that did make me wonder if it would ever emerge into some lightness.

The characters, themselves were dark and none more darker than Sergeant Arthur Bowman, a man haunted by events in Burma, now a policeman, deep in the depths of depression, drowning in alcohol and drugs just to get through his life.

The discovery of a body with the same torture marks as himself force Bowman to take action and it his journey to track down his fellow soldiers who shared the trauma’s of Burma that form the backbone of Retribution Road.

As we followed Bowman’s journey so we got to know the man and at first he was not a man that I particularly liked. Bowman was a man who cared little for his appearance, for the impact his actions may have had on others, he was rough and prone to the odd bit of violence, yet as the story unfolded little glimmers of a man who was slowly coming to terms with his past, who wanted more from life, started to emerge. I loved the way in which Varenne used the journey in America to peel away Bowman’s many layers, and the tension and drama that slowly built as he got closer and closer to his quarry.

I have to admit to some impatience as Bowman’s journey drew to a close, wanting to discover the ending, only to have my own predicted outcomes thrown out by the subtle twist near the end.

This is not a novel that you can hurry, it is a novel that demands concentration and time to appreciate the detail of the settings, of the complexities of human emotion that spilled from the pages. It is a novel that took me totally by surprise, not only with the harshness of the characters and its themes, but also with the its sense of hope, redemption and as the title so aptly describes, retribution.

Having not read any of Varenne’s previous novels, I shall definitely be seeking them out to read.

I would like to thank MacLehose Press for a copy of the novel to read and review and to Corinna Zifco for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.

About the author


Antonin Varenne was awarded the Prix Michel Lebrun and the Grand Prix du Jury Sang d’encre for Bed of Nails, his first novel to be translated into English. His second, Loser’s Corner was awarded the Prix des Lecteurs Quais du polar – 20 minutes and the Prix du Meilleur Polar Francophone.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: