Long and hot—’twas ever thus—is the summer of 1958 in backwater Dewmont, Texas, but almost nothing that happens to13-year-old Stanley Mitchell during its course is remotely typical. Stanley, whose daddy runs the Dew Drop, the town’s drive-in theater, is at the outset a thoroughly ordinary boy who likes movies, comic books, riding his bike, and fooling with his dog Nub. Stanley’s innocence about life is virtually seamless. He thinks sex, for instance, comes “after five and before the number seven.” Enlightenment begins with his accidental discovery of a Pandora’s box of strange love letters that once belonged to young, tragically beset Margaret Stilwind, subsequently murdered. Reading them, Stanley is hooked and transformed. Innocent he may be, but he’s also the stuff of born detectives, with secrets his natural prey. Helped by remarkable ex–Indian Reservation police officer Buster Lighthorse Smith, he sets out to stalk the sinister Stilwinds, Dewmont’s richest, most powerful family. Each Stilwind secret conceals, oyster-like, a variety of others—secrets within secrets. But before Stanley can find the answers he’s so intent on, he loses that which you can’t lose twice, leaving him feeling “as if something inside had been stolen, taken away and mistreated, then returned without all of its legs.” So long, innocence.
Funny, scary, heartwarming, heart-pounding, Tom Sawyer–ish, Huck Finn–ish, provocative, evocative, sometimes actually wise: the best ever from talented Lansdale (Captains Outrageous, 2001, etc.)—a genre-crossing tour de force to spark the most jaded appetites.