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An East Texas lumber town steeped in racism, sin, and mendacity—everything that should make for a much better yarn.

Let it never be said that Lansdale (A Fine Dark Line, 2002, etc.) doesn’t know how to open a story. He starts off here in the middle of a raging cyclone as buxom redhead Sunset, who’s just been severely beaten and almost raped by her husband Pete, shoots him with his own .38—right before the storm tears their house off its foundation. Even though Pete was the local constable, he wasn’t the most likable of men, and so, even though most of the locals don’t care that he used to rape her, Sunset isn’t charged for murder and is even able to convince them to let her take over as constable in his stead. Tough and quick-minded, Sunset has pretty much all she needs to survive in this tough, sweaty end of Depression-era East Texas, even with all the drunk oil workers and Klan types around. Lansdale has a decent amount of fun setting up tough scenarios for the constable and her two deputies, dependable Clyde and deadly handsome ex-hobo Hillbilly, to battle through. But grit and salty language can get you only so far: a mystery has to be invented. This time, it’s the unsolved case of the dead baby found on the land of one Zendo, a black man who’s the envy of most white farmers thanks to the richness of his topsoil. A little digging by Sunset finds another body, as well as some deep, dirty secrets of the kind fostered in most fictional small towns. Lansdale dishes out the cornpone with relish, never fearing to say things like a man’s wilted tie “fell over his chest like a strangled man’s tongue.” This tendency, not to mention the creation of whipsmart but hot-to-trot Sunset, makes the pages fly by—until the story’s vacant center becomes apparent.

A slutty kind of fiction that seems to give everything up too easily but never quite delivers.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-41453-3
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2004


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