The unlikeliest of heroes powers readers through this dark, thrilling ride

Occasionally I’ll read a new book that is so exciting, engaging and beautifully conceived that I cannot wait to write about it and share my latest discovery with readers everywhere. Or at least readers who actually heed what I’m doing, people like you. I just found a novel that is so incredible I wanted to tell you about it.

The book is “Dark Ride” by Lou Berney. As the story begins a young man named Hardy Reed has just entered the municipal building in a large unnamed city. Everybody including Hardy refers to him as “Hardly” because this guy is a total slacker. He strolled in there on that hot July day to ask for an extension to pay a parking fine.

Hardly is coasting through life. He and his two closest friends spend most of their time smoking pot, playing video games, and watching old episodes of “The Office.” He lacks ambition. For the last two years he has worked at a decrepit business, “Haunted Frontier.” People pay an admission fee to get frightened by Hardly and fellow employees dressed up as Townfolk Ghouls and Zombie Outlaws.

Hardly lives with the mysterious Burke, his landlord, some sort of edgy survivalist type. His rent is cheap-Hardly hardly cares about anything. He’s taking up planetary space as usual that day when he shows up to deal with his parking tickets. While he’s there he notices two young children sitting on a bench.

There’s something about the kids, a girl and a boy, apparently siblings, that bothers him. They have vacant stares and as Hardly passes by he observes something so troubling and shocking he’s overwhelmed. He notices patterns of burns on their skin that have surely been inflicted by some sadist with a lit cigarette.

Hardly does what he thinks is the right thing; he tries to file a report with Child Protective Services. Remember, this is someone who is unmotivated and likely destined to accomplish little in life. The vulnerability of those abused children becomes his obsession, He has to save them somehow.

This compulsion drives him along. When Hardly was dealing with his parking ticket he encountered a woman working behind the counter. He tried to persuade her to help him identify the mother of those children. That woman had come out of an office, grabbed her kids, and took off.

This city employee becomes Hardly’s ally in tracking them down. Another crucial helper is a 16-year-old named Salvador who works at “Haunted Frontier.” Salvador worships Hardly and is willing to do anything to help with this challenging situation.

As we ride along through this adventure we learn about Hardly. His mother died when he was nine. He became a foster child. His foster brother Preston, now an ambitious city planner, is Hardly’s polar opposite. They do love each other.

I’m treading lightly over the details. “Dark Ride” by Lou Berney is so inspiring, thrilling, and exhilarating, I could not put this book down, devouring it in one sitting.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

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