We all know Joe Lansdale can do it all. He’s written thrillers, westerns, young adult, and horror novels, as well as fusions containing elements of each. His latest, EDGE OF DARK WATER, is more or less one of these composites that gives a perfect arena to Lansdale’s strengths as a classic storyteller.
When teenaged May Lynn’s body is pulled from the Sabine River tied to an old sewing machine, her friends Sue Ellen, Jinx, and Terry take it upon themselves to give her a proper fond farewell. They decide to burn her remains and carry the ashes to Hollywood, a place where pretty May Lynn always believed she would someday become a movie star. The adventurous trio, along with Sue Ellen’s alcoholic mother, steal a raft and escape from town with some stolen loot, barely ahead of Sue Ellen’s abusive step-father and several other cretinous, criminal characters. As their trip unfolds they run across an odd array of broken and lamentable folks, including a preacher with a horrible guilty secret and an ancient crone with no reason to live except passing on her bitterness. They also learn that Skunk, a legendary beast of a man raised in the river bottoms who’ll commit any atrocity he’s hired to do, may be on their heels.
Despite the novel being set during the Depression, the story has a certain timeless nature. We get the feeling that this tale could almost have taken place at any period between the 1880s and the 1980s. East Texas remains as dark and romanticized as Hannibal, Missouri, full of wonder and possibility, thick with traps and villains.
This is a sharp, incisive, fun tale showing Lansdale’s fortitude at roping the reader into an impressive, alluring narrative. The flaws of our protagonists are what make them so sympathetic and relatable, their journey such an earnest and archetypal one. Even though this is only January, I’m certain EDGE OF DARK WATER will wind up on top ten of ‘12 lists come a year from now.
By the way, look for my interview with Joe in the first online issue of the new ezine The Big Click edited by Nick Mamatas, premiering in March.
Tom Piccirilli is the author of twenty novels including Shadow Season, The Cold Spot, The Coldest Mile, and A Choir of Ill Children. He’s won the International Thriller Writers Award and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de L’imagination. Learn more at www.thecoldspot.blogspot.com.