3 Picks for October

October is here, and as the weather cools, the end of the year stealthily approaches. But 2014 still has plenty in store for us, this month especially. Here are the three MysteryPeople picks for this month:


thicketThe Thicket by Joe Lansdale

One of the best from 2013 is finally coming out in paperback. At the turn of the last century in east Texas, a young man hires a bounty hunting dwarf, an African American tracker, and their hog find the outlaws who took his sister. Peter Dinklage just bought the rights to turn this into a movie. Full of humor and adventure, this book is loved by everyone who has read it.


final silenceThe Final Silence by Stuart Neville

Neville’s latest with Belfast police detective Jack Lennon. Lennon is asked by a former lover to look into go off the record to look into eight possible murders that may have happened and could compromise her politician father. Neville is a skilled storyteller who looks at the sins of his country with an unflinching and entertaining eye that becomes universal.


prison noirPrison Noir by Joyce Carol Oates

This may be the darkest book of the Akashic Noir series. The short stories, most written by current and former inmates, all take place in our country’s incarceration facilities. These are looks into life without freedom, both well written and unflinching.


SHOTGUN BLAST FROM THE PAST: They Don’t Dance Much by James Ross

they don't dance much
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.

Book to Film Review: COLD IN JULY by Joe Lansdale

cold in july
Book To Film Review: Cold In July by Joe R. Lansdale

Cold In July, one of Joe Lansdale’s first crime novels, has recently been turned into a film released in select cites and On Demand. When I saw the moody vampire movie Stakeland by the filmaking duo Nick Danci and Jim Mickle (Danci directs, Mickle acts, they both write the script), it looked like they could handle Joe’s dark East Texas world. The film proved they could.

The film starts out much like the book. Everyman, Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), shoots an intruder in his house. The perp’s father, Russel, played like a snake always ready to strike by Sam Shepard, has just got out of prison and stalks Dane and his family Cape Fear-style. If that wasn’t enough, when Dane sees the photo of Russel’s son, it isn’t the man he shot, although the shady sheriff (Micklel) insists otherwise.

From there on out, we get twists, turns, and reversals aplenty. This is where Mickle and Danci had their work cut out for them in the adaptation. A few of those twists, including one very major one, are the kind that often work better on the page than on screen. Lansdale’s style and use of interior monologue have us buy what is hard to sell if it was just played out in front of us. Danci and Mickle make a few changes that make it both plausible and fitting in tone with the novel.

It’s after that major reversal when we get into full gear with some help from Don Johnson. He plays Jim Bob, a good ol’ boy private eye and pig farmer brought in to help out. He plays him with a laid back bravado and good natured swagger fitting the character. You’re always looking forward to him speaking. Johnson may have been born to play Sonny Crockett, but he was supposed to grow up to be a Joe Lansdale character.

Cold In July satisfies from all directions. It works as an involving dark, hard-boiled flick shot in a style that recalls thrillers from the Eighties, but never overwhelms it. It should please Lansdale fans, capturing his characters, tone, and go-wherever-the-hell-you-feel attitude. It’s been reported that Danci and Mickle are developing a a series with Joe’s Hap Leonard characters. Cold In July is proof the series couldn’t be in better hands.

MysteryPeople’s Top 5 Texas Mysteries of 2013

1. The Thicket by Joe Lansdale

A mix of Southern Gothic, crime, and western with that distinctive Lansdale voice. A young man journeys with the son of slaves, a whore, and a dwarf bounty hunter seeking justice and his abducted sister in turn-of-the-last-century Texas. A grand yarn told in high style.


2.  The Right Side Of Wrong by Reavis Wortham

A group of Texas lawmen have to contend with the new drug business and the violence it brings to their part of the state in the early ’60s, causing them to cross lines both geographic and moral. Great sense of time and place with one hell of a climactic gun battle.


death rides again3. Death Rides Again by Janice Hamrick

Jocelyn Shore visits the small town where she grew up for a Thanksgiving family reunion to find her cousin, Ruby June, missing and Ruby June’s husband murdered. Janice Hamrick’s light, funny mystery takes on some heavy ideas about family, relationships, and modern small towns.


4. These Mortal Remains by Milton T. Burton

If Chandler ended up in east Texas, he may have written something like this tale of a small town sheriff dealing with race, politics, and three murders. An involved plot, pitch perfect tone, and rich voice make this one engaging novel.


5. Long Fall From Heaven by Milton T Burton and George Weir

To solve the murder of their friend, two private security men in 1980s Galveston have to also uncover a string of murders that happened on the island during World War II. Filled with dark secrets and Lone Star history, both authors blend their styles to create an involving and moody thriller.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Joe Lansdale

Joe Lansdale

If you’re a Joe Lansdale fan, then this is the month for you. His newest novel, The Thicket, is out now. And, for as added bonus, he wrote a story in the wonderful anthology of weird tales edited by his daughter, Kasey Lansdale, Impossible Monsters. We’ve been talking about them a lot this week on the blog because we’re excited to have both Joe and Kasey at BookPeople tonight to speak about and sign their new books. We caught up with Joe to ask him a few questions.


MYSTERYPEOPLE: The Thicket is a western, but you chose a unique time period. The book is set at the turn of the last century in East Texas. What interested you about that era?

JOE LANSDALE: That period of transition has always fascinated me. My grandmother straddled both centuries and was a bit of both. The modern age, at least then, came in pieces, and sometimes it took years for those pieces to come together. Technology was for them just as dreaded and appreciated as it is now. We love it, we fear it. But the country was, as now, going through huge defining changes.

MP: What was fun about going back to that genre?

JL: I love that genre. I was once asked to make a list of favorite books, and was surprised how many westerns were on it.

MP: In the book, the main character Jack has some curious allies: a circus dwarf, a grave-digging son of an ex-slave, and a prostitute. They’re outcasts like many of the characters you write. What’s the appeal to outcasts?

JL: Misfits are the interesting people. Its that simple. And, surprisingly, a lot of people think of themselves as misfits.

MP: It takes skill to write a period piece. What would you say is the most important thing to remember when writing in set period of time?

JL: You should know the era and feel the voice. But, mostly, you are there to tell a good story.

MP: Many of your protagonists are teenagers. Do you find that challenging as writer or do you enjoy it?

JL: Everyone has been young so they understand how life can surprise in good and bad ways. We can all relate to those moments, because we have all been through it.

MP: You have a story in Impossible Monsters, an anthology edited by your daughter, Kasey. Did she keep you on task?

JL: She was pretty much a nag, actually, but it was fun.


Joe Lansdale will be at BookPeople tonight with daughter Kasey Landsale to talk about & sign both books. Both The Thicket and Impossible Monsters are available in store or online via BookPeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Joe R. Lansdale

Joe R. Lansdale will be dropping in tomorrow, Thursday, April 5th at 7pm, for one of his lively discussions and signings. His latest is Edge Of Dark Water, a Depression era coming of age tale that is being lauded as one of his finest. Joe was kind enough to answer some question about his writing, influences, and interests.

MysteryPeople: Edge Of Dark is one of those books that seems to be a mix of genres or not really any one genre. Was there anything that gave you the idea for this one?

Joe R. Lansdale: I think a lifetime of reading and experience came together in this one. The Odyssey, Jason and the Argonauts, mythology and Huckleberry Finn, this and that. I wasn’t consciously mixing or not mixing. I just wrote the story that came out.

MP: You use a female protagonist in the book, which you also did in one of my other favorites, Sunset and Sawdust. Is there anything you have to keep in mind when writing for the opposite sex?

JL: I think you try to be observant. You try to pay attention to memory about women you know or have known. That’s what I did. I tried to keep in mind  how kids acted when I was young, and how they acted now. In some ways, they stay the same. I, of course, used the language of that time and of someone less educated. But Sue Ellen seemed to present herself to me and say I have this story to tell, so sit down and listen. I did.

MP: It seems like you use The Great Depression most often when you choose to go back in time. What does that period do for you?

JL: My parents were adults then. It had an impact on them, and I heard their stories growing up. It was a time when people were truly on their own, and not a good time. No social security, no veterans rights, no Medicare, and no money for when you got laid off from a job. You were just out there on a wish and hope. Scary times, and anyone that lived through those times will tell you that. People were desperate, and often hungry and pushed to the breaking point. Bad times, but it does make for an interesting back drop to fiction.

MP: Both this novel and your last, All The Earth, Thrown To The Sky, have teenage main characters. What do you get to do with kids as a writer that you can’t do with adults? Do did you bump into any limitations?

JL: I like that they are discovering life, and you get to go back and remember how it was when you were coming up against things for the first time and seeing them as new. It’s about the excitement of thinking you could go out and conquer the world, even the world of the Depression era. And it’s about loss of innocence, learning just because you want something, you may not get it. It’s interesting to live through young eyes, because it allows you to remember how you felt about things when you were young, even if those things and the events vary. There’s a freshness to it.

MP: Edge Of Dark Water seems to take some inspiration from The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, and you crossed that character with Cthulhu mythos in a recent short story. What makes that book important to you?

JL: I like it because it’s so anti-racist, and Twain was such a brilliant writer and storyteller. He created American literature, or at least was the most important creator of it.

MP: You’ve done, horror, crime fiction, western, sci-fi, even young adult books as well as comic books and scripts. Is there a genre or form you haven’t tackled that you’d like to?

JL: I don’t know. I guess time will let me know. Right now I just get up in the  morning and write. I love writing. I love doing it, and I love having written as well. It’s a wonderful life.

Joe R. Lansdale will be here at BookPeople Thursday, April 5 7p. His publisher, Mulholland Books, has a short story of Joe’s up online right now, free to read. And the Austin Chronicle has a great write up of the new book and Joe’s career this week.