Joe Lansdale, author of several horror novels, Westerns, and some outrageous thrillers, is something of a cult writer. The Bottoms
, which may be the breakout book that moves Lansdale beyond the genre category, is a resonant and moving novel. Though there is a mystery at its core, it is at heart a coming-of-age story, with a more literary bent than Lansdale usually demonstrates.
Harry, an elderly man, tells the story of a series of events that occurred in his 11th year, when the mutilated, murdered bodies of Negro prostitutes began turning up in the county where his father was the local constable. Harry and Tom, his younger sister, find the first one. Only their father, Jacob Crane, seems to care about finding justice for the victims, who are dismissed out of hand as unimportant by the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan, which warns Jacob off any further investigations. Harry and Tom think they know who's responsible: the Goat Man, a creature who's said to lurk beneath the swinging bridge that crosses the Sabine River, where the first body was found. In fact, the Goat Man has something to do with the murders, and the secret of who he is and what he really did is the key to the unsolved slayings. But that takes second place to the artfully explicated character of Jacob and Harry's changing relationship with him in the course of the loss of his boyish innocence. This is a masterfully told story and a very good read. --Jane Adams
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From Publishers Weekly
In his latest suspense thriller, prolific yarn-spinner Lansdale, best known for his offbeat series featuring the mismatched East Texas Sherlocks Hap Collins and Leonard Pine (Bad Chili), presents a different voice in a coming-of-age story set in the early years of the Great Depression. Lansdale's 80-something protagonist, Harry Crane, looks back to the day in 1933 when he was 13 and, with his nine-year-old sister, Tom (Thomasina), he found the mutilated corpse of a black prostitute bound to a tree with barbed wire near their home along the hardscrabble bottomlands of the Sabine River. The discovery presents their father, Jacob CraneAa farmer and barber eking out a living as the town constableAwith a nightmarish investigation. News travels slowly in the days before television, but Jacob learns from the black doctor who performs the makeshift autopsy that two other mutilated bodies have been found over the last 18 months. Because the victims are black and "harlots," no one in the county much cares. But when the body of a white prostitute is discovered, a rabid mob lynches MosesAa black man who has been something of a surrogate father to JacobAdespite Jacob and Harry's heroic efforts to save him. Predictably, another body is soon discovered. Lansdale is best when recreating the East Texas dialogue and setting. Readers will not have to work hard to unearth comparisons to characters in To Kill a Mockingbird, but gruesome details of the murders keep the novel from being labeled a period piece. Folksy and bittersweet, though rather rough-hewn and uneven, Lansdale's novel treats themes still sadly pertinent today. (Aug.)
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