Nov 14, 2023
Scott Von Doviak's newest book Lowdown Road mixes hick cinema, blaxploitation, and 70's cinematic archetypes into one hell of a crime-thrilling story.
The 1970s saw an explosion of “car” and “road” movies, such as 1971's Vanishing Point and Two-Lane Blacktop, among others. The decade also saw the rise of the “blaxploitation” genre, seen in movies like Shaft (1971) and Dolemite (1975). Finally, the “Me Decade” featured a wide variety of colorful, larger-than-life media personalities, such as Evel Kneivel, who held millions spellbound with their antics.
The 1970s were also a time of great social upheaval. Americans’ faith in their leaders took a serious hit during the Watergate Scandal; oil shortages led to long lines at the gas pumps; the war in Vietnam raged through the early part of the decade; and drug use, especially cannabis, permeated society. The hippie, “free love” movement of the 1960s had come crashing down at Altamont and never recovered.
All of these seemingly separate threads converge beautifully in Scott Von Doviak’s "Lowdown Road"—a crime thriller that Stephen King calls “a f**king great story … it’s a blast.”
“Lowdown Road” is published by Titan Books as part of their Hard Case Crime series and is Von Doviak’s second novel, following 2018’s “Charlesgate Confidential”, also part of the same series. A pop culture journalist for publications such as The AV Club, Von Doviak is also the author of several pop-culture reference books, including “Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema” and “The Stephen King Film FAQ”.
“Lowdown Road” follows a cast of characters who would have been at home in the grindhouse, drive-in movies of the 1970s. The action kicks off when cousins Chuck and Dean Meville rip a million dollars worth of weed off dealer Antonie Lynch. Their plan: abscond with the product to Snake River Canyon in Idaho, where thousands of people are gathering to watch stuntman Evel Kneivel attempt to jump it on a motorcycle. There, they plan to make a fortune—one that will secure their futures.
Naturally, Antonie does not take highly to Chuck and Dean’s plan, and after the cousins steal his weed, he takes off in pursuit. Also on Chuck and Dean’s trail is Sheriff Geddings. Geddings’ mistress tried to use Chuck and Dean in a plan to kill her husband, Geddings’ deputy; however, Chuck and Dean threw a spanner into his works by killing Geddings’ mistress in self-defense. Now blind with anger and seeking revenge, Geddings is a man on a single-minded mission: avenge his lover by killing Chuck and Dean—and God help whoever gets in his way.
Von Doviak’s “hick cinema” background is a huge influence on “Lowdown Road”. Chuck and Dean are just a pair of good ole boys who mean no one harm, who suddenly find themselves fleeing for their lives while trying to chase what is left of the American Dream. The types of movies Von Doviak is invoking with “Lowdown Road” also regularly featured corrupt law enforcement officials, and Sheriff Geddings is cut from this mold as well. Meanwhile, Antonie could have walked straight out of a blaxploitation movie, another nod to 70s drive-in movies.
Yet Von Doviak imbibes each character with nuances and quirks that take them beyond being mere caricatures, Antonie Lynch in particular. Lynch is engaged in a number of criminal enterprises, not just limited to dealing drugs. It may be tempting to write Lynch off as a “crook” or a “thug,” but Von Doviak digs deep into Lynch’s psyche and makes him a well-rounded character. Lynch, who is also a closeted gay man, meets Julian, who is also Black and gay. The two share not only a bed and a car but also their love of movies, particularly the works of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. Julian and Antonie are perfect for each other, even if they do not realize it until it's too late.
Beyond Chuck, Dean, Antonie and Sheriff Geddings, Von Doviak creates a number of compelling and quirky characters whose lives weave in and out of the main story. Some of these minor characters also invoke 70’s cinematic archetypes; for example, Chuck and Dean run afoul of a bootlegging, backwoods family who could have been plucked from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Uptown Mike, the short-fused biker Chuck and Dean encounter, could have come from Easy Rider. These characters add spice and color to the narrative.
As befitting its influences and inspirations, “Lowdown Road” moves at a breakneck pace. Never once does the plot drag, and Von Doviak infuses it with a number of twists and turns—some funny and others devastating. The book’s climax, set at Evel Knievel’s iconic jump of the Snake Canyon River, is gut-wrenching, with twists the reader will not see coming. The book is fittingly cinematic.
The 1970s were one of the most turbulent decades in American history. The pop culture of the time reflected this, mirroring the concerns and fears of a world where the illusion of stability and progress was slowly slipping away. These anxieties manifested themselves in a variety of genres, and Scott Von Doviak’s “Lowdown Road”perfectly recreates these seminal works, while adding new and unexpected layers along the way.
"Lowdown Road" is currently available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and you can check your local bookstore, as they'll likely be carrying it too. For more on Author Scott Von Doviak, visit his official page at www.ScottVonDoviak.com.
Shaun Corley is an East Coast pop culture enthusiast who loves to write about everything entertainment. A big, important Screen Rant writer, Shaun has many leather-bound books, which are far outnumbered by comics and the smell of rich mahogany.