Ah, summertime. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the grass is blowing gently in the breeze. What better time then, than to read a twisty psychological thriller (complete with a side of creepy supernatural goings on) set on Everest’s dark and snowy peak? Enter ‘The White Road‘ by Sarah Lotz – my choice of reading over one of the hottest weekend’s of the year!
Desperate to get their click-bait website ‘Journey to The Dark Side’ off the ground, wannabe filmmaker Simon Newman is persuaded by his friend Thierry to go caving in the deadly Cwm Pot Rat Run with the aim of filming the bodies of three students who died there years before. When Simon’s own horrific experience in the caves goes viral, the pair seek the next challenge – an ascent of Everest, the ‘Death Mountain’. But, when Simon gets to Everest, he discovers there may be more dangerous things on the mountain than the elements – and this time, his luck may have run out.
For me, one of Sarah’s main achievements in this book is the creation of Simon, our narrator. He is, in all honesty, a bit of a louse. Lazy, dishonest and largely out for himself, Simon is not a likeable narrator. He is however interesting and well formed as a character and we see flashes of the person he could become and the life he could lead if he chose to. Fully aware of his own deceits, he becomes torn between his best and worst selves which really added to the psychological suspense as he battles with his personal demons. The supporting cast are also well realised – Thierry was slightly one dimensional, being the epitome of the self-centred, obsessive ‘internet sensation’ but that’s a minor niggle. In a genre that often relies on tense plotting rather than well constructed characters, it was great to be in the head of someone who felt so real and was surrounded by people you felt you could actually meet.
The opening salvo in Cwm Pot is deliciously dark and full of menace – a great way of setting the tone for what is to follow – but it’s once Simon reaches Everest when, for me, the book really comes to life. The sense of place and of the challenge of the climb really came across and I found the incidental details about climbing and the mental and physical challenges posed by being at altitude absolutely fascinating. It made me want to read some non-fiction about the history of Everest and find out more about mountain climbing in general.
I also felt that the supernatural elements were well handled – I’d never heard of the ‘Third Man’ concept before but it’s a really intriguing one and used to very good effect here. Even at the end of the book, I couldn’t decide whether or not to consider this a ghost story!
Tautly plotted and immensely enjoyable, ‘The White Road’ balances psychological intrigue with dashes of the supernatural to create an intense thrill ride that grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go until I’d turned the final page. Fans of Michelle Paver’s recent ghost stories (especially ‘Thin Air‘, with which this shares a great deal in terms of theme and setting) will find much to enjoy here, as will fans of psychological suspense and anyone who enjoys being gripped by a good book!