Bad Signs

Orphaned by an act of senseless violence that took their mother from them, half-brothers Clarence Luckman and Elliott Danziger have been raised in state institutions, unaware of any world outside.

But their lives take a sudden turn when they are seized as hostages by a convicted killer en route to death row. Earl Sheridan is a psychopath of the worst kind, but he has the potential to change the boys’ lives for ever.

As the trio set off on a frenetic escape from the law through California and Texas, the two brothers must come to terms with the ever-growing tide of violence that follows in their wake – something that forces them to make a choice about their lives, and their relationship to one another.

Set in the 1960s, BAD SIGNS is a tale of the darkness within all of us, the inherent hope for salvation, and the ultimate consequences of evil.

It returns to the haunting ground covered in the award-winning, international bestseller, A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS.


  • Set in the 1960s, the content may be dark and unforgiving but it is a beautifully and poetically planned tale that reveals itself layer by layer.
  • Though [Ellory’s] books always provide a wild and giddy ride, there is more to them than thrills, chills and spills. Bad Signs is rich, complex and nuanced, with many psychological undercurrents. It’s edge-of-the-seat entertainment.
  • Set in an utterly convincing 1960s rural America, this is a jaw-droppingly good thriller.
    The Irish Independent
  • R J Ellory is the master of the slow-motion thriller, in which the journey is as satisfying as the ending. He doesn’t write crime, but human dramas where the characters continually find themselves challenged by viewpoints and realities that are emotionally difficult as well as mentally untenable. They find themselves in places where they never intended to go and do not wish to remain. Their purpose becomes to recover their lives and identities; failing that, they recover whatever they can but never view life from the same perspective. Set in the 1960s, Bad Signs is the redemptive tale of two half-brothers orphaned by an act of senseless violence and reared in state institutions. Their lives are tragically altered when they are seized as hostages by a convicted killer en route to death row. Beautifully written with the slightest sardonic comic edge.
    Graeme Blundell – ‘The Australian’
  • ‘He’s one of the great British thriller writers of his generation.’
    Alex Gordon – Peterborough Evening Telegraph
  • ‘Ellory’s the real deal, giving us another horrific chunk of small-town American violence, neglect and psychopathy. Instituionalised half-brothers Clarence and Elliott have a startling choice to make when they are kidnapped by a convicted serial killer.’
    Henry Sutton – Daily Mirror.
  • This new work by R J Ellory is something of a departure, though set against the usual shadows of contemporary America; Bad Signs is Ellory at his most disturbing. The tale also has a sense of urgency partly because the events unfold over a week in 1960’s rural America, and partly because there is an atmosphere of dread and impending doom that sits like a cloud over the week that is Bad Signs. Ellory’s theme is that perhaps the price of friendship comes with a high cost; as the orphaned half-brothers ‘Digger and Clay’ (aka Elliott Danziger and Clarence Luckman) soon discover. Their path gets crossed with psycho-nut job and former murderer Earl Sheridan, who drags them into his own private hell. The madman Sheridan takes the brothers from California, Arizona and into Texas, leading them through a series of violent misadventures. It seems that Sheridan’s presence alters the brothers’ relationship, and makes them face the darkness of their origins. Perhaps Digger and Clay were born under a bad sign, but as Digger embraces the madness, Clay fights against the shadows that Sheridan brings to their faces. There is philosophical debate as to whether genetics, fate or nurture (or a combination of these), have made the brothers chose their divergent paths, but one thing is certain – Sheridan had a part to play. Reminiscent of the amoral nihilism of early Jim Thompson, Bad Signs is a shotgun wound to the face with many of the images hard to erase once viewed through Ellory’s imagination. Though as a contrast to the violent imagery, there is real pathos and a dark, dark humour that provides insight into the dark side of human nature. This is Ellory’s ninth published novel and he’s become judicious with harsh editing, propelling the tale using sharp dialogue between Digger and Clay to propel this dark tale to its cathartic conclusion. When you close the book, you won’t forget the two boys Digger and Clay, and the journey that was their undoing, and the grinning face of Earl Sheridan. Without doubt, Bad Signs is Ellory’s most disturbing book, and one that will haunt the reader even more than his breakout – A Quiet Belief in Angels. But a warning it’s not for the faint of heart (and I’m not kidding).
    Ali Karim – SHOTS magazine
  • RJ Ellory is one of the most interesting crime novelists working today. Though British-born and based, he sets his novels in the United States and seems to change his style of writing from book to book – always to excellent effect. Best known for A Quiet Belief in Angels – soon to be made into a film – his latest novel is set in the 1960s. Its protagonists are Clarence Luckman and Elliott Danziger, orphaned half-brothers who have been raised in state institutions and have little familiarity with the outside world. Seized as hostages by Earl Sheridan, a convicted killer en route to death row, they are forced to go on the run with him through California and Texas, leaving an ever-growing tide of violence in their wake. The Weekend Australian I wanted to start this off by a simple recounting of the many elements that go to make up Roger Ellory; his love of music, his skill at cooking, his determination and, above all, his writing. But that’s not right, even though all these things are correct. Above all and everything, this has to be about the book, because the book is something special. The music plays a part. The title of the book comes from ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’, a song by Booker T Jones and William Bell, although more people would be familiar with the Cream version. Music also plays a part in the rhythms of the novel; it moves like the blues. It moves like the music in The Moonrise EP, the CD that Ellory and his band, The Whiskey Poets, released recently. Like that music, there are subtleties and honesties in the text, a subdued paean to the roots of the blues, to the poor people who have been ground down by being born under a bad sign, and not being able to claw their way out, no matter what they do. The book is about two half-brothers, Clarence Luckman and Elliot Danziger, born to a hapless mother who was murdered by Clarence’s father in front of the two boys, midway through 1947. He was shot by a cop in Las Vegas, after leaving the boys alone with the corpse. As the book says, ‘Suffice to say the boys’ childhood was grounded hard in violence and madness’. A familiar history of state homes and abuse eventually led to Hesperia juvenile hall, where things just got worse. And the worst thing was that they met Earl Sheridan, a psychopath who kills his way out of imprisonment and takes the two boys when he gets away. And not even that is the bottom of the pile. Earl takes them on a killing spree, and fascinates Elliot the way a snake fascinates a rat. Clarence sees Earl for what he is, but Elliot worships him. Clarence escapes, but Elliot goes with Earl, and learns how to kill. A manhunt based on mistaken identity puts Clarence under the gun, while Elliot puts what he learned to use by raping and killing and taking what he wants. The novel goes beyond being a thriller. It assumes the epic proportions of a Greek tragedy, where the fates have condemned people to live and to die, and all the audience can do is wait with baited breath to see how it all works out, and if the guilty suffer for their crimes. The characters are weepingly believable, and the setting, in California and Texas, is drawn with such skill that it is hard to believe that it wasn’t written by a native of the Panhandle, but by someone who lives just outside Birmingham. The dry, dusty west is created so well that you’ll reach for a beer to sluice away the dust. With this novel, Ellory has joined the stars of modern genre literature. It is a classic.
    Ian Nichols, The West Australian
  • When R.J. Ellory’s first novel Candlemoth is mentioned, many are surprised by the power and strength of what is commonly perceived as a debut novel. In fact, Ellory had written more than twenty books at this point, rejected on literally hundreds of occasions. Why? He is a genre defying Englishman writing about America. Perhaps it is understandable that he faced such odds. It takes a very special author to overcome such circumstances. Unsurprising then that Ellory cites Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle as a major influence. The famous Scot travelled to and wrote about America on a number of occasions. There can be no question that R.J. is a crime writer, but he is a crime writer like no other. The breadth and scope of his work is beyond the jurisdiction of what might commonly be called big budget crime fiction. His work has been called Human Drama. He has also been described as an exponent of, The slow motion thriller, a complimentary term, designed to describe the Ellroian niche between popular and literary fiction. As big daddy existentialist Søren Kierkegaard, said: once you label me, you negate me. Ironic, as Ellory’s work exhibits an advanced understanding of philosophy and humanity in general. Ellory has been compared to Mario Puzo, James Ellroy, and Stephen King. All descriptions are accurate, but they fail to define Ellory’s unique style. In a similar way to genre busting author Don De Lillo, Ellory refuses to repeat himself, Instead he offers the reader voluptuous narrative and a tireless dedication to story. It is a dedication that makes him a very special writer. There have been plaudits aplenty for Ellory’s nine published works. He is a million selling fave-rave of critics and cult fiction Crimeziners everywhere. So is the great man heading for the Crime writing major leagues I hear you ask ? Truth is he is already there. Not every one realizes it though, especially in America. Hollyweird loves a nice formula, so it has been slow to catch the Ellory wave, but once it discovers his big money ideas, we will be hearing a lot of R.J. Ellory. Guaranteed. So where to start Crimeziners? Candlemoth is Ellory’s first published work. It has been compared to The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. A rocking debut indeed. Crimezine also loves the genre-busting epic, A Simple Act of Violence. Ellory’s break through success, A Quiet Belief In Angels is also strongly recommended. While his latest, Bad Signs, is reminiscent of Jim Thompson at his hottest. Crimezine also recommends R.J’s blog which shows a fearless and passionate edge, rarely seen amongst published authors. Last by no means least, there is The Whiskey Poets, R.J.’s hard rocking beat combo named after Taff booze hound and sometime poet DylanThomas. Ah, the poetry of Whiskey, it is the poetry Crimezine loves the most! CRIMEZINE A blood-soaked and unfailingly readable novel.
    Andrew Taylor, The Spectator
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