Prepare to shiver at Richards’ dark portrayal of the intellectual. In The Lost Highway, Alex Chapman is an irritable and ungrateful young man, but he has a measure of intelligence. He uses this small gift to cope with bullies. It takes him to priest school, but he is insincere and eventually derides it, preferring atheism and finding his home in a liberal university. Here, right and wrong are substituted for approval and disapproval. It is a place where someone like Alex can wind up teaching ethics. The politics of the university finally circle in on Alex, and he is compelled to leave, forced to live a destitute life in a shack on his uncle’s property. The novel takes off at this point, for Alex discovers that his uncle has won a lottery and Alex believes he has the means to steal the ticket from him. Alex’s real understanding of ethics is put to the test, especially when Leo Bourque, a bully from childhood, becomes entangled in the plot. Alex is not a sociopath, and he must struggle with his conscience, or at least his self-perception of being an ethical man. One might think that atheism would make some ethical questions easier to answer, but no (of course religion never does either). It is sometimes said that all good acts can be traced to a selfish motive; with Alex, each wicked act twists its way to virtue. Through Alex, Richards takes reader on a riveting journey to the limits of ethical rationalization. Bourque is a sociopath, and the crimes and cover ups escalate with each chapter. This is the third great book I have read by Richards (Mercy Among the Children, Bay of Love and Sorrows). He is compared to Thomas Hardy and deserves it.