Last Bus to Coffeeville by J Paul Henderson

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Last Bus to Coffeeville by J Paul Henderson

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A road trip with a great concoction of characters and a quirky heart in the right place but perhaps a detour or two too many (although you may think otherwise).
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: April 2014
Publisher: No Exit Press
ISBN: 978-1843443346

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Dr Eugene Chaney III promised Nancy one thing; a promise he hoped he'd never have to deliver. However, in the midst of their elderly years Nancy confirms that the time has come. So Eugene gathers together an unlikely fellowship and a bus that used to belong to Paul McCartney and plans a journey to Coffeeville, making it as much of a holiday as possible. Just one thing though: before they set out, they must spring Nancy and that may not be as easy as it sounds… even if it did sound easy.

Writer J Paul Henderson is a Yorkshireman who has been on a road trip or two of his own during his life. He travelled to Afghanistan, went on to US academia and returned to the UK with a doctorate in 20th century American history to accompany his Masters in American Studies. He then jumped from academic publishing to this, the first of a three book deal. Did he land safely? Yes, as he's undoubtedly a gifted writer but enthusiasm for the novel varies from person to person. Speaking personally, I tread a line along the middle.

J Paul beckons us in to a narrative that jumps from the present to personal back stories of the past. This works incredibly well for Nancy and Eugene as their historic relationship and the promise it produces is the core. It even works well for best friend and bus driver Bob, providing J Paul with the opportunity to draw us in to the 1960s American southern states' black civil rights struggles. OK, perhaps his overnighter with Che Guevara takes some disbelief suspension but it's engrossing stuff. Indeed, although I loved the current day set up for the ultimate bus ride, at that stage I was prepared to wander down memory lane.

However, when I realised we had pages of back story for each character once established or announced, it became a little irritating. Even as the bus ride begins but we still keep being taken on individual diversions away from it. For some reviewers elsewhere this has added to the interest but for me it would almost have been better to divide it into two books; one setting up the characters and the second taking us on the journey itself. There's nothing wrong with the writing of either the back stories or the bus adventure; each shows talent and flare, it's just their juxtaposition.

Talking of talent, each of the people we journey with are indeed characters in every sense of the word and a springboard for some good comedy (both farcical and more subtle varieties) not to mention tears. Dr Eugene tries to keep everyone together and focused in order to complete a mission that he's always dreaded. We understand the dread as we watch the sassy Nancy disintegrate, Alzheimer's turning her into a frustrated shell scrabbling round for memories.

These former lovers (another poignant story set among the smiles) and Bob are augmented by Jack (Eugene's Godson) and Eric the 13-year-old orphan. These people may not sound too offbeat, so perhaps if I mention that Bob has already died once (not in the zombie sense though – this isn't fantasy), Jack is a disgraced TV meteorologist and Eric's hobby is calculating the body count in the Old Testament you'll see they aren't people we'd meet at the average coffee morning.

You can also tell that J Paul is a historian, demonstrating a great passion and enthusiasm for his subject that's contagiously communicated. There are some terrific factoids from the eras and the towns through which the story travels, such as the potted biography of chocolate magnate Hershey who bears comparison with Cadbury and Fry over here. (There must be something about chocolate which naturally predisposes its manufacturers towards philanthropy!)

There are definitely enough positives not to ignore Last Bus and would recommend going to support your local library and borrow a copy if you're unsure. (You definitely don't want to miss the high dependency unit scene.)

Whichever side of the marmite book line you tread, J Paul Henderson is someone to watch out for and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what he brings us next.

Thank you, No Exit Press, for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If this appeals because you'd like to read more fiction centring on Alzheimers, we recommend Ghost Moon by Ron Butlin. If, on the other hand, it's the quirky road trip that attracted you, try The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence or The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison.

Buy Last Bus to Coffeeville by J Paul Henderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Last Bus to Coffeeville by J Paul Henderson at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Last Bus to Coffeeville by J Paul Henderson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Last Bus to Coffeeville by J Paul Henderson at Amazon.com.


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