I came by James Ross’ They Don’t Dance Much when it was recommended to me by Joe R. Lansdale. Daniel Woodrell had suggested it to him. Even Raymond Chandler was a fan. Last year, Mysterious Press came out with a reprint of the novel (including a forward by Woodrell). The book shows that rural noir could be just as mean, nasty, and engaging as it is now, possibly more so.
Our narrator is Jack McCall. When is his farm goes bust, Jack throws in as a manager with Smut McCall, the charming local bootlegger, who opens up a road house. Smut’s saviness and ambition are only outmatched by his lust for the wife of the town operator, who he sees as often as he can. When Smut pulls Jack into a crime, holds out on his share of the profits, the two play a cat and mouse and mouse scenarios that out Tom & Jerry to shame.
The book is a mix of Chandler and James Cain soaked in Southern barbecue. The prose style grabs you from the first paragraph, makng Jack’s dialect and manner as its style. Much of the suspense is built through his desperation. Ross gives us detail in the day-to-day business (both legal and not) of running that road house, showing the constant moral compromises these men make and thier justifications. It’s not a shock when murder is treated indifferently.
They Don’t Dance Much is more than just a look at one of the first rural noirs. it’s an involving, seedy tale of compromised men who become thier own undoing with enough twisted humor to satisfy a Lansdale fan. Read it and you’ll recommend it.