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By Joe R. Lansdale

Mysterious Press, (September 1999) HC, 245 pages

Reviewed by Anthony Neil Smith

Lansdale writes like he's out of his gourd. Man, what a gift. This novel concerns Bill, a man whose mother has died in their small Texas home, and he keeps her body in the back room. What he wants is to keep receiving her Social Security checks, but he can't forge her signature. As money reserves dwindle, the power is turned off, and the food runs out, Bill becomes desperate for cash. He recruits two friends to help him knock over the fireworks stand across the street from his house. And when that caper goes wrong, Lansdale gives us the Murphy's Law of crime novels--if it can go wrong, it does--that leads Bill into the helping arms of a freak show. Literally. And to see how that works, I recommend you read this one. It's quite a ride.

Lansdale has a way with language, just some really outrageous metaphors, and similes that blindside the reader. Wonderful eye and sense of description. It's all told in a sort of Texas Tall Tale pitch, Lansdale gathering us around the campfire and trying to make us buy the story. Every situation here tops the last one. It's a growing wall of chaos that the reader just knows has to come crashing down sooner or later. But it's the "How" that makes it all worth getting there.

The author's expertise in the field of horror writing are apparent here as well, as this crime thriller incorporates truly shocking moments that caused me to jump as I visualized them, slipping into uncomfortable laughter. There is a moment in which one of Bill's friends, while they try to escape in the marshes, is attacked by a boiling crowd of water moccasins that attach themselves and won't let go until the man collapses on the shore. Really sick stuff that won't let go once it's in the mind. Well worth the price of admission.

I was disappointed by the conclusion of this book, and wished Lansdale hadn't switched the point of view after we'd grown so close to one character throughout. But that's okay. As long as the roller coaster has at least a couple of big loops and drops--and this book does--it's memorable for the effect it had in those moments. This is raw, funny, scary, and weird. Quite good.

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