Monday, November 23, 2020

Book Review: Hauty’s “Savage Road” Offers Thrills and Chills

This might be the most challenging “spoiler-free” review I have ever written. 

Here’s the scoop... 

Chris Hauty’s upcoming novel, “Savage Road,” (set to be published Jan. 5, 2021) is a direct sequel to his 2020 thriller “Deep State” — a novel I wrote had a “stunning twist” that “left me speechless.” 

As a result of Hauty’s plot-bending twist, I wasn’t quite sure how to approach the review of his latest book. I certainly won’t spoil anything for readers unfamiliar with his work. 

Hauty — an accomplished screenwriter — approaches his novels in a fashion similar to the best serialized TV series on outlets like Netflix and HBO. But instead of the dramatic narrative building season-by-season, the narrative builds book-by-book. 

Metaphorically speaking, if “Deep State” is Season 1 in Hauty’s bibliography, then “Savage Road” is Season 2. 

As a result, I’d highly recommend readers check out “Deep State” first (it is one of the best thrillers I’ve read in recent years). 

“Savage Road” brings back plucky protagonist Hayley Chill. Not only does the character have one of the coolest names in fiction, she has also proven herself to be a stone-cold covert operator in Hauty’s universe. 

It’s a positive to see female protagonists coming to the fore in this genre. A couple years ago I reviewed K.J. Howe’s two Thea Paris thrillers — “The Freedom Broker” and “Skyjack” — and wrote “it’s refreshing when a writer creates something different.” 

Chill’s meteoric rise from humble White House intern to chief of staff for one of the president’s key advisors is being orchestrated by forces beyond her control — the “deeper state” organization known as Publius. 

In “Savage Road,” Chill finds herself rolling around like a pinball as she bounces between duties for political guru Kyle Rodgers and covert operations for the “deeper state.”

If that weren’t enough, Chill also faces a pair of existential crisis points in the novel — the possibility of a serious romantic relationship (something beyond her typical “one night stand”) and unearthed revelations about her deceased father. 

The meat of the plot centers around a series of mysterious cyberattacks impacting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the United States. 

The cyberattacks definitely give “Savage Road” a sense of verisimilitude in today’s geopolitical world. In that regard, Hauty’s latest serves as a nice companion piece to the 2020 thriller “Total Power” by Kyle Mills (read my review). 

“Knives and guns are for dunces,” writes Hauty. “Information is the weapon of the twenty-first century. Truth can be split, like the atom, and weaponized.”

(I know I'm not technically supposed to quote an advance reader copy, but Hauty’s words epitomize the approach he takes to this thriller, and the world we live in today.) 

At the center of it all is Hayley Chill. The juxtaposition of character — bred from humble roots in Appalachia, but navigating the white-collar corridors of Washington D.C. — makes for compelling drama. 

We saw this at play in “Deep State” when Chill (plucked from the Army Infantry) interacted with her fellow White House interns — most of her peers coming from wealthy, Ivy-League-educated stock. 

Hauty shows in “Savage Road” he isn’t content to let his protagonist merely serve as a vessel to move the story forward. He also avoids texturing Chill by using pat “info dumps.”

Hauty’s style is more nuanced. He reveals Chill’s backstory piece by piece, revealing layers as if she is a matryoshka doll. 

I enjoy this method of character development.

Speaking of compelling characters, I liked Chill’s fellow “deeper state” operative Lt. April Wu, a West Point grad who works at U.S. Cyber Command. Chill and Wu play well off of each other in the novel. 

I also appreciate that Hauty crafts his books with a unique writing style. 

In my review of “Deep State,” I pointed out that Hauty uses a “third person, present tense” voice. It's something I’ve seen in a number of YA novels, but not typically in this brand of thriller. 

It definitely gives his novels an original flavor. The style used is commonly employed in screenwriting (a profession Hauty knows all too well). 

Hauty discusses his cinematic inspiration for Hayley Chill — along with how he uses pieces of un-filmed screenplays in his novels — during this terrific interview on The Crew Reviews podcast: 

Like “Deep State,” Hauty’s latest novel offers its share of twists (he really knows how to keep your interest piqued as the pages flip by). One in particular left me with “relentless questions” in the hours after I finished “Savage Road.” 

That’s why Hauty is one of the genre’s best new writers. Just when you think you have things figured out, he makes one more twist of the screw. 

After I completed reading the advance copy of “Savage Road,” I perused the “Acknowledgments” section. 

Hauty dedicated a paragraph in this section to “book bloggers” and “superfans.” I follow many of the fine folks mentioned in the passage, and was stunned to find myself listed among them: 

As a self-proclaimed “book nerd,” it means so much when authors take a moment to recognize fans. I was not expecting that at all. I’m truly honored. 

“Savage Road” will be released by Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books on Jan. 5, 2021. Pre-order your copy here

You can learn more about Chris Hauty and his novels “Deep State” and “Savage Road” at

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