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Sunset and Sawdust [Hardcover]

Joe R. Lansdale
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 16 2004 Lansdale, Joe R
He has been called “hilarious . . . refreshing . . . a terrifically gifted storyteller with a sharp country-boy wit” (Washington Post Book World), and praised for his “folklorist’s eye for telling detail and [his] front-porch raconteur’s sense of pace” (New York Times Book Review). Now, Joe R. Landsdale gives us a fast-moving, electrifying new novel: a murder mystery set in a steamy backwater of Depression-era East Texas.
It begins with an explosion: Sunset Jones kills her husband with a bullet to the brain. Never mind that he was raping her. Pete Jones was constable of the small sawmill town of Camp Rapture (“Camp Rupture” to the local blacks), where no woman, least of all Pete's, refuses her husband what he wants.

So most everyone is surprised and angry when, thanks to the unexpected understanding of her mother-in-law—three-quarter owner of the mill—Sunset is named the new constable. And they're even more surprised when she dares to take the job seriously: beginning an investigation into the murder of a woman and an unborn baby whose oil-drenched bodies are discovered buried on land belonging to the only black landowner in town. Yet no one is more surprised than Sunset herself when the murders lead her—through a labyrinth of greed, corruption, and unspeakable malice—not only to the shocking conclusion of the case, but to a well of inner strength she never knew she had.

Landsdale brings the thick backwoods and swamps of East Texas vividly to life, and he paints a powerfully evocative picture of a time when Jim Crow and the Klan ruled virtually unopposed, when the oil boom was rolling into and over Texas, when any woman who didn't know her place was considered a threat and a target. In Sunset, he gives us a woman who defies all expectations, wrestling a different place for herself with spirit and spit, cunning and courage. And in Sunset and Sawdust he gives us a wildly energetic novel—galvanizing from first to last.

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*Starred Review* Whether he's writing Hap Collins-Leonard Pine mysteries, genre-bending horror novels, or his own blend of historical fiction and gritty country noir, cult-favorite Lansdale rarely hits a wrong note. He's a superb stylist and a first-rate storyteller, and his sandpaper wit never fails to scratch out a brand of humor that hovers somewhere between knee-slap funny and painfully revelatory. He's in his country-noir mode here, in what just may be his best novel yet. The tale begins with a hold-your-breath set piece in which red-haired beauty Sunset Jones kills her husband, Pete, who happened to be raping her at the time. Given all that, it comes as a surprise to the residents of Camp Rapture, an ironically named sawmill settlement in Depression-era East Texas, when Sunset's mother-in-law, majority owner of the mill, arranges to have Sunset replace Pete as the settlement's constable. Soon enough, Sunset--with the help of two deputies, both with romantic designs on their boss--is investigating the murder of a woman and her unborn child, a crime that may implicate Pete. Lansdale layers the mystery elements skillfully, building to an action-filled climax, but where he really shines is in his evocation of both the desperation and the determination that grew from the dirt of the Depression. Sunset is a marvelous character; you don't see many feminist heroines in the femme-fatale world of noir, which makes her emergence, her coming-of-age in an age set firmly against her, so exhilarating. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


“[Sunset and Sawdust is] filled with turns and twists, nastiness, broad humor, moments of grace. . . . Lansdale is a storyteller in the great American tradition.” –The Boston Globe

“A wonderfully nasty piece of work [that] inspires I-can’t-believe-this laughter. . . . Very entertaining.” –Newsday

The opening . . . will grab unsuspecting readers by the lapels and pull them right in. . . . Lansdale's prose--laconic and sarcastic--is so thick with slang and regional accent that it's as tasty as a well-cured piece of beef jerky." --The Denver Post

"Lansdale is an exceptional storyteller . . . readers will feel the Texas heat and hear the story in the author's unique East Texas drawl. The vivid characterization will make readers cheer for the protagonist and boo the villain." --Rocky Mountain News

“Delivers the unexpected and bizarre that his fans have come to expect. . . . The narrative is entertaining, but Lansdale’s patently unvarnished storytelling–backwoods and brash all at once–is the real reason to crack this cover.” --Texas Monthly

"Funny, bloody and bizarre. . . . Another five-star doozy of a tale from an immensely talented and original storyteller." --The Flint Journal

“Sunset Jones is the kind of woman that men who drink in East Texas bars would call a ‘pistol.’ As a tornado rips through the sawmill camp town of Rapture, in the rousing opening scene of Joe R. Lansdale’s historical barnburner Sunset and Sawdust, Sunset finally puts a stop to her husband Pete’s bloody beatings. . . . Soon Sunset has her own posse, including a wonderful dog whose abject adoration of the fiery gunslinger pretty much sums up this reader’s feelings.” --The New York Times Book Review

"A first-rate whodunnit. . . . [Lansdale] knows how to tell a story." --The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“Sly, easy-paced and so comfortable in its setting that it becomes almost seductive. This is what good storytelling is all about.” --Arizona Republic

"Lansdale can catch that meandering East Texas twang in his writing, but just as quickly he can tighten the plot and our stomachs with a turn of phrase. . . . Lansdale gives us both atmosphere and action." --Winston-Salem Journal

"Surrealistic. . . . Unpredictable. . . . A darker kind of storytelling." --Pittsburg Tribune-Review --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another memorable visit to East Texas. June 14 2004
With Sunset and Sawdust, Lansdale's readers find themselves revisiting the familiar terrain of East Texas, a region which the author has evoked with much intimacy and affection in novels like Mucho Mojo and Rumble Tumble. Set in the lumber town of Rapture, Texas, the novel begins as its heroine, the fetching Sunset Jones, shoots her husband Pete in the head with his own .38. Pete, a man who was a little too fond of beating and raping his wife, dies with a surprised look on his face, his ass in the air, and his pants around his ankles.
Receiving unexpected moral and political support from her mother in law Marilyn, who feels partially responsible for her son's vile behavior, Sunset is appointed to serve the remainder of Pete's term as Constable of Rapture. Assisted by the plain spoken Clyde, and the handsome and mysterious drifter Hillbilly, Sunset finds herself at the center of a murder mystery involving her husband's mistress and unborn child. What follows is pure Lansdale, including a couple of beatings, a house fire, sweaty sex, gunplay, creepy villains (one of whom previously appeared in Lansdale's outstanding short novel The Big Blow), unexpected plot twists, and general mayhem.
Lansdale continues on his impressive upward climb of constant refinement and improvement, producing a book that exceeds the high expectations created by such previous successes as the Edgar Award winning The Bottoms and 2003's A Fine Dark Line. In the hands of a lesser writer, the events depicted in Sunset and Sawdust might read like an over the top country soap opera, but Lansdale's distinctive voice, combined with his emotional wisdom and his abiding affection for even the most despicable of his characters, transforms these incidents into affecting drama.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sunset herownself May 5 2004
By this time in his career, Joe R. Lansdale has certainly worn a comfortable groove in his storytelling saddle. SUNSET AND SAWDUST reads very much like other novels Lansdale has published in recent years (notably The Bottoms and A Fine Dark Line-two other recent non-Hap 'n' Leonard novels). The humor, the atmosphere, the plotting, and the East Texas vernacular are all quintessentially Lansdale. If you're a returning reader, you'll find yourself right at home for another stay (much too brief though it may be) with your favorite mojo storyteller.

What gives SUNSET AND SAWDUST some extra kick, however, is a sense that even if Lansdale has covered similar territory in the past, he's still examining it with a hungry and restless eye. His use of a female protagonist, the redhead constable Sunset Jones, might be just the ingredient that keeps SUNSET AND SAWDUST so fresh and unpredictable. Lansdale has always written convincing female characters, but it's fun to see him examine the whole boy-girl thing from the other side of the fence.

The enduring Lansdale theme of people with power behaving badly towards people without it is at play once again in SUNSET AND SAWDUST. But the main character, the recently self-widowed redheaded constable who is on the lookout for a killer and also a moral center, helps muddy up that notion quite considerably.

There's also an arsenal of well written supporting characters in SUNSET AND SAWDUST that helps keep the novel well balanced and fun to read. A noticeable progression in some of these characters' front porch philosophizing adds to the overall adventurousness of the novel. SUNSET AND SAWDUST doesn't just sit there. . .it reaches out into the dark and does its damndest to grab hold of something.

And it succeeds.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A cracking good read July 6 2004
I recently developed an interest in Joe Lansdale after hearing all the hype about "Bubba Ho-Tep," a film version of one of this author's short stories directed by Don Coscarelli of "Phantasm" fame and starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. I knew about Lansdale before the hoopla surrounding the film reached a fever pitch, of course, but he is one of those writers I unfortunately kept putting on the back burner in lieu of other "must read" stuff. On an excursion to the library recently I decided to finally check out something-anything, really-from this author. Since I couldn't find the short story collection containing "Bubba Ho-Tep," I settled on "Sunset and Sawdust" largely because it looked like it is his newest book and because it was the first one to catch my eye. I am happy to announce that I enjoyed this book despite a few minor reservations. I ended up enjoying "Sunset and Sawdust" so much that upon finishing it I immediately went back to the library to pick up another one of his books.
Set in the heat parched environs of Camp Rapture (known to the local employees as "Camp Rupture"), East Texas during the Great Depression, "Sunset and Sawdust" tells us everything we would want to know about a spirited firecracker named Sunset Jones. The adventure begins when Sunset (so named because of her mane of bright red hair) murders her abusive husband during a tornado strike. Regrettably for Sunset, her husband Pete was the town constable and the son of the primary owners of the local saw mill. It takes a lot of guts to stroll into the mill and tell Pete's parents what she did, but Sunset is the type of gal who always lives up to her responsibilities.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Noir in Overalls
First of all, I am a Lansdale fan. I discovered his books about four years ago and I have read nearly every thing he's written. Lansdale keeps getting better and better. Read more
Published on June 14 2004 by Samuel L. Smith II
1.0 out of 5 stars not very satisfying
I'd consider myself a Lansdale fan, I've read all the short stories, loved the first Hap and Leonard books. But lately... Read more
Published on June 13 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the most literary writers of the genre
Joe R. Lonsdale won the Edgar Award for best novel several years ago for his historical drama, THE BOTTOMS. Read more
Published on April 19 2004 by Larry
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate, Classic Writing.....
With so much of the same old crap stirring around the top
of the bestseller sewer system of retreds its nice to find
another Lansdale winner waiting in the wings for its... Read more
Published on April 3 2004 by J. Bilby
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best!
Joe R. Lansdale (as someone already noted) is an American treasure. Every time I read one of his novels, I end up laughing out loud and the crisp western dialogue ("He was big... Read more
Published on April 3 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Even Better Than Award-Winning The Bottoms!
Joe R. Lansdale's latest, _Sunset and Sawdust_ and is a real stunner! I think this book is even better than his Edgar-award winning _The Bottoms_. Read more
Published on March 29 2004 by Craig Larson
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Novel by an American Treasure
I first read a Joe R. Lansdale story in an anthology entitled NIGHT VISIONS. It was one of a series of volumes published by a wonderful and sadly defunct company named Dark... Read more
Published on March 28 2004 by Bookreporter
5.0 out of 5 stars His best yet
I tell stories to my wife at night. Usually they put her to sleep. Then I started telling her Lansdale stories. Read more
Published on March 26 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Lansdale masterpiece!
Joe Lansdale returns to the bookshelf with another in a long line of suspense masterpieces. Politically incorrect, but writing with far more authority than anyone on the New York... Read more
Published on March 24 2004 by T.P.M.
5.0 out of 5 stars wacky wonderful tale
In Depression Era East Texas, Constable Pete Jones assaults his wife Sunset before he rapes her. Badly abused and bruised, and in fear that he will one day kill her and beat the... Read more
Published on March 21 2004 by Harriet Klausner
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