Tuesday, January 02, 2007

By Joe R. Lansdale

This is another instant classic from Joe Lansdale. The man from behind the Pine Curtain weaves another tale of murder, memory, growing up, and a certain place in time.

Dewdrop, Texas in the late ‘50s was frozen in time. Through the eyes of Stanley Mitchell Jr. the reader sees the harsh dividing line of whites and colored in the segregated South. Stan’s dad owns the local drive-in theater. While Stan reads Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes he dreams of adventure in his sleepy town. He finds it in the form of a box of letters in a buried trunk. The letters open up the mystery of the death by fire of a rich young girl and the brutal murder of a prostitute’s daughter on the same night years before. Before he’s done Stan has to learn just how many sordid secrets his town hides, and he has to learn what they mean.

Stan devotes himself to finding the truth. Not by himself though, Lansdale provides a rich cast of characters. Stan has help from his best buddy, Richard, a boy with a brutally abusive father. Stan’s older sister assists in solving the riddle while providing some fine comic relief (there’s a wickedly funny subplot involving a “water balloon” in her bedroom). Stan’s dog Nub proves to be man’s best friend (reminiscent of Sailor Steve Costigan’s bulldog, Mike). But Stan learns the most from Buster, the old black man who runs the projection room at the drive-in. Buster teaches Stan about the ways of being a man, even when the world insists you are just a boy.

This is a rather restrained tale for Lansdale. There is a degree of sweetness about it, though there is plenty of darkness to go with the light. A Fine Dark Line is superlative Texas noir from one of the best writers around.
-Dave Hardy

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