Euro Reviews: ‘Route 66 List’ – A New Euro-Thriller Just Too Light On The Thrills
by Richard Bruton
Éric Stalner‘s noir spy thriller set in JFK’s America follows a father and son travelling state to state in search of the truth behind The Route 66 List. But as a Euro-thriller in the new Van Hamme template it just falls short of what it could have been.
The Route 66 List follows something of the modern Euro-thriller template of Van Hamme’s XIII, where the bigger secret is slowly revealed over several volumes, and transfers it to the America of 1961-1965, JFK’s America, where there’s a Red under every bed.
In this case, the Red is Alex Poliac, a Soviet sleeper agent who was part of the spy network run by a legendary Russian spymaster, Sasha. But now Alex’s wife is dead and he’s thrust into the open and is on the run with his son, their lives upturned thanks to the Route 66 List, containing the names of every Soviet sleeper agent along America’s most famous road.
But things have changed and there’s a serial killer – The Clown – cutting a deathly swathe across the country, Alex knows that his victims are anything but random and that the Clown is no serial killer, despite what most of the authorities think.
Because the Clown is killing the names on the Route 66 List…
With no contact from Sasha, Alex had no choice but to take his son and run, but The Clown is on their tail and so starts a deadly game of cat and mouse along Route 66 with both KGB killers and the FBI on his trail.
It’s a tale that’s set up to be a damn fine thriller over five volumes, a little bit noir, a dash of a conspiracy thriller, with a touch of a road movie and father-son bonding thrown in for good measure. And I was really looking forward to it, hopeful that it would give me something of the thrills I get from Van Hamme’s finest.
Sadly though, this one rather stutters and fizzles rather than roars along the way I was expecting it to, the way I was hoping it would. I suppose you could say that Van Hamme’s XIII set the bar so damn high that it’s always going to be hard to get anywhere near that. XIII worked because it was the first and because Van Hamme’s twisting and turning was so ridiculous yet so out and out thrilling.
Here, although Stalner’s concept is good, so full of potential with all the chance to go as over the top as XIII managed to, it just never properly connects together. The dialogue feels stilted from the off, the pacing seems off – it takes us all of volume one to even really begin to get going, and the characters never really seem to develop past the simplest versions of themselves, with no real exploration of the complexities of their lives as sleeper agents.
Instead, what we get is a series of volumes that just interest rather than intrigue, that never really thrill the way they were meant to and, despite Stalner really trying hard to pull everything together in a Kennedy-related conspiracy, never quite hang together in the way the author intended.
Script and artwork by Éric Stalner, colours by Jean-Jacques Chagnaud, translated by Mark Bence. Originally published by Darguad, 2009, published in English by Cinebook, 2020.