This week we turn to science fiction debut author with Gollancz Gavin Smith, who released his novel Veteran earlier this year in the UK. He has decided to bring us all the reasons we should be reading Joe R. Lansdale.
Somewhere in East Texas, not far from Nagadoches, is a crossroads like the kind that Robert Johnson went down to. There you’ll find the God of the Razor sitting down and having a beer with Johnah Hex at his best. There’ll be others there as well, cowboys, gunmen, bounty hunters, ne’er do well slacker accidental crime fighters, zombies and a Mummy hunting elderly Elvis. From the crossroads you can see the lights of the Orbit Drive In Movie Theatre in the distance. The Drive In that you never leave. The Drive In where the horror on the screen is reflected by the horror in the car park.
I am cheating a little here. Yes Lansdale does write genre fiction, mainly horror with a crossover into SF, accidental Steampunk and other assorted weirdness but he also writes westerns, historical novels and he is without doubt my favourite crime writer. Don’t think you like westerns? Read Joe’s Jonah Hex graphic novel Two Gun Mojo and then we’ll talk some more about it. Don’t think you like crime? Read Two Bear Mambo, actually you won’t really read it, it’ll give you a good old fashioned East Texas ass-kicking but then pick you up buy you a dark Mexican beer and a plate of chilli.
His prose is stripped down, sparse, almost clipped. His dialogue comes at you like the flashing blade of Zorro. His characterisation is something to behold, within a few lines a fully formed, and often complex character leaps off the page at you and then runs laughing into the night. His stuff can be nasty without being torture porn. It can be downbeat but not depressing. It is frequently very, very funny, much funnier than books that are supposed to be funny, if you know what I mean?
His real strength, however, is atmosphere. If you haven’t guessed by now then Joe’s a Texan. Actually he’s not just a Texan, he’s a TEXAN. Most of his stories are set in Texas and often East Texas and his hometown of Nagadoches. He conveys the atmosphere of the place to an extent that you feel like you’ve been there once you’ve finished reading the stories. I think he does this because he quite genuinely loves the
place and the people who live there and it’s an infectious love.
So where to start?
Well he’s normally got some free fiction on his website – give that a go and see what you think of it.
As starting points I’d recommend the two books I mentioned above and the Bottoms. Two Gun Mojo was a proper, ornery reinvention of the DC character Jonah Hex complete with lynching, jailbreak, lasts stands and more gunfights than you could shake an angry rattlesnake at, oh and of course zombie gunfighters and midget necromancers. In Two Bear Mambo (there’s clearly some dualism going on my thinking) you meet two Lansdale’s best creations: Hap, a down on-his luck, East Texas, labourer who never quite seems to live up to his potential and Leonard his tough doorman friend with a penchant for setting fire to the neighbourhood crack house (which shouldn’t be as funny as it is). It’s got the clan, voodoo, exhumations, poor weather and packed lunches. I like the Hap and Leonard books so much because they are about two guys trying very hard to do the right thing in a complicated world were it’s easy to go astray.
The Bottoms is his most critically acclaimed novel. It is a historical novel that deals with murder and racism in East Texas during the Great Depression. The Bottoms got Joe compared to Harper Lee author of To Kill a Mockingbird. A flattering comparison? Maybe, except Joe knows about zombies as well. Harper Lee knew f**k-all about zombies.