The Brotherhood of the Wheel (2016) was one of those books I never really thought I’d read. However, I picked it up and it took exactly one paragraph for me to be hooked. The reason for that is simple. Belcher has one hell of an addicting style of writing. Lyrical, flowing, full of imagery and atmosphere, this book instantly sucked me in.
And then he hit me with all the mythology and urban legends and I was in heaven.
Belcher creates a whole new culture with The Brotherhood of the Wheel, a nomadic sort of life where almost everything worth happening happens on the move. The United States is a landmass drawn by highways and byways, and this is where the action happens – fast moving, across states and landscapes. Nothing happens in one place for very long, but despite this sprawling world where this book takes place, Belcher manages to make everything feel so shockingly intimate. The world is huge, but the specific important places are drawn with vivid, realistic detail that makes them shine. There’s an intimacy between the characters and the places they find themselves in that makes everything feel so familiar. A diner they may have never been in before feels like any diner you’ve ever been in, and that makes a huge difference in the narrative. This book doesn’t take place in a strange world, it takes place in the world we live in, and we know it does because we can picture it.
Now, there is an Other-type place that does come into play, and everything I’ve just said can be flipped on its opposite side regarding this place. The strangeness of it claws at your skin. You feel it in your bones. It’s not right. Nothing about this place is right, and all the familiarity that Belcher uses to describe our world is just… gone… from this one. The stark contrast is felt, and the atmosphere is oppressive and weird. It’s like a glove that is one size too small.
Belcher is the master of atmosphere and place. He weaves mythology, mystery, murder, and urban legends into all of this and things really start getting magical (literally and figuratively). The plot is just as fast moving as Jimmy’s truck, and as intricate and detailed as the world that Belcher has created. There’s a bit here for everyone, and plenty that you’ll recognize from the vanishing hitchhiker, to the tales of serial killers that haunt highways throughout the nation. Into that sort of setting, Belcher has mixed in a nice dash of magic and mystery, from the Knights of Templar who serve as protectors of the innocent and road warriors of a sort, to gods, great hunts, and human sacrifices.
The Brotherhood of the Wheel is full of edge-of-your-seat tension, and was impossible for me to put down. The characters were fantastic, and while there are the hard beaten cops in the story, the real shining lights are the people that never really get to play protagonist roles in books – the truck driver with tobacco stained teeth, the kid in a motorcycle club who has anger issues but is trying to save his family’s club, and hints of other magic, shifters and magic talismans, demons and the power of belief. It never really stops, and Belcher doesn’t let it stop. There is so much here that I really only felt like Belcher scratched the surface of the world he has created. I have no idea if he plans on writing another novel set in this world, but I sincerely hope he does because there is so much more here that I want to know about.
The plot is fantastic, and I must say I was rather surprised with just how much Belcher packed into a novel this size. I was constantly surprised, constantly guessing, and holding that book with a white-knuckle grip. I didn’t expect things to happen the way they did, nor did I expect the magic and urban legends to weave so seamlessly into a mystery like this. It’s gritty and dark, and showed me a bit into the culture of those who live on the road, if in an urban fantasy sort of way.
My one complaint is that sometimes the perspectives change unexpectedly. This gives readers an omniscient viewpoint of what is happening, but in mid-chapter with no warning it sometimes caught me off guard and I’d have to reread a section when I realized that what I had just read was from a different character’s POV than I first expected.
All in all, despite that one small complaint, The Brotherhood of the Wheel was absolutely fantastic. Creepy and real, with characters that I loved because they were so different than the typical. Belcher wrote something spectacular here. The Brotherhood of the Wheel is full of atmosphere and heart. If you get spooked easily, you might not want to read it in the dark.