My second Lansdale, right after reading “Hot In December” (reviewed here).
The hard-boiled crime fiction's main characteristics are cynicism, toughness in difficult situations, and a wise-cracking sense of humor, as well as the desire to see justice fulfilled. I got plenty of that with this novel…
The vast majority of Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction being published today is utter crap.
When I hear people talking about “hard-boiled,” what they usually mean is books with urban settings, characters who are professionally involved in solving crime, a fair amount of violence, and a generally cynical outlook. I could give several examples, but I won’t. Suffice to say that the hard-boiled crappy variety is easily recognizable. We’ll know that the world we are about to embark on is dark and corrupt and nothing the main character can do will change that, but he will be nevertheless compelled to try, even though he knows that he is ultimately doomed to fail… It’s alright to play to the genre tropes, but it’s also refreshing to read something different once in a while.
Another pet peeve of mine is the fact that in bad Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction the main character’s knowledge makes him cranky and leads him to drink too much; it also makes him no fun at parties, so he doesn’t usually have many friends (be it male of female). For family maybe he’ll get something approaching warmth with a woman of easy virtue, but she will either get killed or betray him.
Joe R. Lansdale is able to avoid all these traps. On top of that he also wrote a top-notch Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction novel.
The experience I had with this novel was much akin to the one with “Hot in December”: tension-packed, a lot of talk and little action (rest assured that all the talk is necessary, and when the action comes it hits hard). Violence for violence’s sake is not my thing, but by using three-dimensional characters Lansdale was able to consistently create “real” people who usually get caught up in violence against their will. I don’t think that because his books are populated with lots of violence, it doesn't mean that they are macho. Far from it. In fact it could be interpreted as being a fantastic “drama”, packed with human tenderness and high emotions. It reminds me of an Italian Opera by Verdi, where everything is blown out of proportion, but still being able to remain true to the story.
The private investigator (Russell) was one of the more colorful characters I’ve ever read and has some of the best lines. As for Dane’s wife, she served the purpose of counterbalancing the hard-boiledness of the novel, sort of lending a different kind of protective spirit to the story.
The only thing not ringing true in the story are some of Russell’s actions. For me it was hard to accept he’d make the decision he does and even harder that Dane would go along with it.
As stated above, this is my second Lansdale and it won’t my last. His grit-and-wits’ pedigree is evident throughout.