Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review of A Fine Dark Line by Joe Lansdale (Phoenix, 2003)

The summer of 1958, Dewmont, East Texas, and thirteen year old Stanley Mitchel is about to graduate from being an innocent boy who spends his days reading comics and playing with his dog, Nub, to murder detective.  Whilst playing behind the drive-in movie theatre recently purchased by his parents he discovers a metal box half buried in the soil next to a burnt down mansion.  Inside are letters between J and M.  Stanley learns that thirteen years earlier, on the same evening, two young girls died: Margret, the daughter of a prostitute was beheaded on the nearby train tracks, and Jewel, the pregnant daughter of the richest man in town, died when her house was set on fire, the rest of her family, including her brother, James, surviving.  Enlisting the help of Buster Lighthorse Smith, a retired Indian Reservation policeman, who works as the drive-in projectionist and lives in the black part of town, Stanley starts to investigate the two deaths.  His actions, however, set in motion more than he bargained for, leading to a set of terrifying events that will live long in the memory.

A Fine Dark Line is a coming of age tale set over the summer of 1958 in town of Dewmont, East Texas, and if I read a better book this year it’ll be an exceptional tale.  I’m a long time fan of Joe Lansdale.  His writing is consistently good and he regularly hits it out of the park.  This is one of those occasions.  The story is told as a reminiscence, the text effectively the script of a porch-told tale.  The voice is pitch perfect and Lansdale drops the reader into the world of an innocent thirteen year old boy living in a liberal family in a socially and racially divided society as he learns of the world’s various vices, some of its terrors, and how to survive them.  The characterisation is excellent, especially Stanley, his older sister, Callie, the black housekeeper Rosy Mae, and the projectionist and former cop, Buster Lighthorse Smith, and there’s a clear sense of character development as the story unfolds.  Where the tale really excels is the sense of place and time, and the plot.  The initial hook is strong and Lansdale then reveals a number of monsters, each of whom is a credible murderer and threatens Stanley and his family.  The result is a taut, tense mystery that is vividly told and keeps the reader engaged and guessing until the final page.  I thought it was a wonderful, poignant and riveting read.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

He rarely lets you down.