Renowned photo-journalist Jude Montgomery arrives in Glasgow in 2014, in the wake of the failed Scottish independence referendum, and it’s clear that she’s searching for someone.
Is it Anna Mason, who will go on to lead the country as First Minister? Jamie Hewitt, guitarist from eighties one-hit wonders The Hyptones? Or is it Rabbit – Jude’s estranged foster sister, now a world-famous artist?
Three apparently unconnected people, who share a devastating secret, whose lives were forever changed by one traumatic night in Phoenix, forty years earlier.
Taking us back to a school shooting in her Texas hometown, and a 1980s road trip across the American West – to San Francisco and on to New York – Jude’s search ends in Glasgow, and a final, shocking event that only one person can fully explain…
An extraordinary, gritty and tender novel about fate and destiny, regret and absolution – and a road trip that changes everything…
I absolutely adore David F Ross and his writing and I loved ‘There’s Only One Danny Garvey’ so much that I was almost scared to pick this up as I worried that I couldn’t possibly love it as much…
But here’s the thing, it’s possible to fall in love with books for such very different reasons and there is definitely still room in my heart for this one, no matter how much I loved Danny and keep a special place in my heart for his story.
I often think of poems that attach themselves to my thoughts when I’m reading a novel and I suppose that’s the curse of being an English teacher. I wanted to keep this one short and sweet because I think that Emily Dickinson gets it perfectly right in very few words and as we read about these seemingly unconnected characters, the thoughts around the ‘sting in the tail’ – or the ‘sting in the tale’ if you will – start to swirl around my head with the idea that the very thing that we often think we are seeking might well be the undoing of us – but if you want to think more deeply about that idea, you’re definitely going to have to read the book for yourself…
It is a testament to Ross’s writing that you are once again absolutely caught up in this sweeping and immersive narrative and feel like these three characters are real people whose lives you have become entangled in – and just like real people’s lives, the truth is rarely as black and white, nor as tidy as people like to think. This time, instead of smalltown Scotland, we are transported to Texas, and a road trip across America – However thoughts about nationhood, belonging and home are never really all that far away and the quality of the writing will keep you turning those pages as you imagine yourself traveling back to Glasgow and thinking about the ties that bind us and where we really belong to, even as we feel the wheels spinning on a long lost American highway…
Stuart Cosgrove has described this novel as ‘A mesmerising road trip through the America of Kerouac, Warhol and Reagan. Dashboard Elvis may be dead, but this book is full of vibrant, authentic, colourful life’ I’d have to agree on all fronts. The only thing this description misses out on is that it takes you with it on its unique and eclectic journey and you should definitely go out and buy yourself a copy right now.
The skillful way that David Ross weaves the threads of this novel together so that you feel connected to Jude, Anna and James – for all their very different experiences – is a testament to his skill as a writer. Mary Queen of Scots wrote that in her end was her beginning “En ma Fin gît mon Commencement” and Jude’s journey feels like that – that we only get to see the entirety of her story once we have traveled both backwards and forwards in time with her and seen her at all the different times in her life and how all of this adds up to her ‘story’ – the other characters might not seem obviously connected at first – but this is one of the most satisfying things about David’s writing – that it is often only once you’ve closed the final page that you can see the whole picture – that while you are reading it’s only ‘through a glass darkly’ as you aren’t given all of the information at once. It’s like a magic eye picture, you have to hold all the different parts of the story in your head at the same time and then – and only then – do you finally get to see the full story…
Like me, you’ll be emotionally invested as this story unfolds for these characters and even though this isn’t a hugely long read, there is still plenty of time to think about your own youth and the ‘might have beens’ along the way as we think about some of the destinations, wrong turns and dead ends on our own literal and metaphorical highways…
I loved the way that this novel wove all of its threads together – of the uncertainties about the past and everything that led to Anna’s current situation with the additional threads that come together in ways that you might never have imagined – I loved the way that humour and pathos come together at the same time as real-world events such as 9/11 are woven into the fictional narrative. This is the perfect read for these long cold December nights and would be an absolutely amazing book club choice – I guarantee that you’ll be recommending it to so many people afterwards – as you’ll not be able to stop thinking about this original, intelligent and thought-provoking read and you’ll want to see what other folk think as soon as they’ve finished.
David Ross is also famously adept at inspiring awesome playlists in his novels and you will definitely be reaching for your old albums after thinking about the Hyptones and their music – I was away down an 80s music pathway as I went back to my own youth in small-town Scotland and thought about the bands I loved then and what they might be playing, remembering and missing now…
I’ll go with a Camera Obscura song to finish off and play us out
Buy this book – it’s bloody brilliant
‘ll brace myself for the loneliness
Say hello to feelings that I detest
This maudlin career must come to an end
I don’t want to be sad again
This maudlin career must come to an end
I don’t want to be sad again
‘Few do raw, authentic, almost palpably believable characters better than David F. Ross’ The Times
‘A masterclass in transatlantic intertwining storytelling from one of Scotland’s finest writers’ Derek Steel, Razur Cuts
‘A rich and rewarding novel that takes in the culture and social history of both Scotland and the USA, beautifully weaving stories together over decades … devastating’ Alistair Braidwood, Scots Whay Hae
‘An ambitious, sweeping novel … Taut and gritty, Dashboard Elvis Is Dead interrogates truth, and pulses with life’ Donna McLean
‘An irresistible story of chances taken and missed, and of last-ditch hopes of redemption … the writing is exquisite’ Katie Allen
‘Gripping, gritty and gloriously written, David F. Ross captures characters, places and moods like few other writers … a triumph of a novel’ Martin Geissler
‘A rawness and sensitivity that is so visceral … another extraordinary novel from David F. Ross’ Anne Cater
‘Simultaneously intimate and epic … my head and heart are spinning’ From Belgium with Booklove
Dashboard Elvis Is Dead is definitely one of those novels that you are unable to forget, and really pulled me out of a reading slump – it really is a page turner; keeping you guessing throughout and wondering in idle moments about the routes you’ve taken, the stops yiou’ve missed or the way that our own past might re emerge in an unexpected way someday…
If you feel intrigued and would like to order yourself a copy and find out for yourself what has had such a huge impact on me, then buy yourself a copy here
Check out these other fantastic bloggers on the tour. Thank you so much to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for the invite – You know that I love an Orenda read and can’t wait to see where David takes us next.
Writer On The Shelf
David F. Ross was born in Glasgow in 1964 and has lived in Kilmarnock for over 30 years. He is a graduate of the Mackintosh School of Architecture at Glasgow School of Art, an architect by day, and a hilarious social-media commentator, author and enabler by night.
His debut novel The Last Days of Disco was shortlisted for the Authors Club Best First Novel Award, and optioned for the stage by the Scottish National Theatre. All five of his novels have achieved notable critical acclaim and There’s Only One Danny Garvey, published in 2021 by Orenda Books, was shortlisted for the prestigious Saltire Society Prize for Scottish Fiction Book of the Year.
David lives in Ayrshire.