Friday, November 29, 2013

Review of The Thicket by Joe Lansdale (Mulholland Books, 2013)

Jack Parker has just turned sixteen when his mother and father die from small pox on their East Texas farm.  His grandfather arrives to take him and his younger sister, Lula, to an aunt in Kansas.  Not long after setting off they run into Cut Throat Bill and his gang, who have just robbed a bank.  The gang murder Jack’s grandfather and kidnap his younger sister.  Jack makes his way to the nearest town to find the sheriff, who killed when the bank was robbed.  Determined to rescue his sister he turns to two bounty hunters, the charismatic dwarf, Shorty, and his partner, Eustace, the son of a slave, offering them the deeds to his parent’s and grandfather’s land in return for help.  The three of them set off in pursuit, picking up Jimmie-Sue, a young prostitute seeking to leave the profession, and Winton, another sheriff interested in the bounty on capturing Cut Throat Bill’s gang, dead or alive.  Tracking, Fatty, one of Bill’s gang, they home in on their quarry, hoping that Lula is still alive and they can rescue her whilst maintaining their own health.

Set just as oil is being discovered in Texas and the first cars are bumping along unpaved roads, The Thicket is an adventure yarn that is a mix of Tom Sawyer, Stand by Me and True Grit, with a solid dose of the comic, dark humour that populates Lansdale's Hap and Leonard books.  The strengths of the tale is its voice, characterisation, sense of place and time, and plot.  The story is told as a form of a reminiscence through a very engaging narrator’s voice that makes it feel as if it’s the transcript of porch-told tale.  Jack Parker is a wonderful character, just on the cusp of becoming an adult, but still naive and unworldly, though brave and determined.  And Lansdale puts in his company a colourful band of bounty hunters, who are ranged against an equally colourful band of dispicable villians.  The plot is a boys own adventure with a large dose of spice and grit, that is perfectly paced with the right balance of action and reflection, and the reader is placed into the landscape of East Texas in the early twentieth century and its social relations and rhythms.  Overall, Lansdale is on fine form and The Thicket is a thoroughly enjoyable escapist yarn.

1 comment:

Older but not particularly wiser... said...

I'm about two-thirds through this book, Rob and I have to say, it's as entertaining and laugh out loud funny as anything I've read, in an age. Your review as aye, was spot surprises there then...
Best, Colin.