Joe R. Lansdale


"The Bottoms"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie JAN 14, 2007)

"Then too, there was the Goat Man. Half goat, half man, he liked to hang around what was called the Swinging Bridge. Up until the time I'm telling you about I had never seen him, but sometimes at night, out possum hunting, I thought maybe I heard him, howling and whimpering down there near the cable bridge that hung bold over the river, swinging with the wind in the moonlight, the beams playing on the metal cables like fairies on ropes.

He was supposed to steal animals and children, and though I didn't know of any children that had been eaten, some farmers claimed the Goat Man had taken their livestock, and there were kids I knew claimed they had cousins taken off by the Goat Man, never to be seen again."

Set in Deep East Texas during the Great Depression, Joe Lansdale's The Bottoms is a wonderful coming-of-age tale about life in a simpler time. Lansdale's novel is also about a heinous serial killer who stalked the low lying lands around the Sabine River, and how the mystery surrounding the murderer's identity was solved.

read excerptHarry Crane, an elderly man in a nursing home, recalls, very visually, a time when concrete had not taken over most of the East Texas land he so loves. Harry narrates this story about the terrible discovery he and his young sister made, when he was just an eleven year-old boy and Tom, (for Thomasina), was nine, living on a farm outside of Marvel Creek, Texas, near the Sabine River bottoms.

Back then, both children knew the woods and the river where they fished, hunted and roamed, as they would a second home. Out late one evening hunting squirrels, Harry and Tom stumble upon the naked, mutilated body of a black woman. They believe the killer is the dreaded Goat Man, of local legend, who supposedly lives and lurks beneath the old swinging bridge that crosses the river. The two think they glimpse the shadowy ghostlike figure fleeing when they first approached the body.

The discovery of the corpse brings racial prejudice and hatred to the fore, and violence threatens to overtake the civilized veneer of the town's white population. The children's father, Jacob, is the community constable because no one else wants the job. He is also the only white man concerned about the killing. Popular opinion has it that if a black woman is murdered then a black man must have killed her. This was not the business of white folks, not even law enforcement. The locals are outraged that Jacob believes that the Negroes deserve the same justice as white people. And the Klan warns Jacob off the case, thwarting further investigation.

As the number of murder victims slowly rise, each corpse more gruesome than the last, Harry sees the horned "Goat Man" a second time. The town's racial tensions increase along with the number of murder victims. The hysteria grows when it is discovered that the latest woman to die is part white. Secrets long kept silent are revealed. And Harry begins to learn things a twelve year-old should never have to know. Meanwhile, Jacob Crane still can not find the killer. The creature, known as the Goat Man continues to walk the river landscape while an unknown serial killer menaces the town's residents.

Joe Landsale has written a riveting mystery and a wonderful novel of southwestern rural life in the early 1930s. His prose is lyrical and the voice of young Harry is amazingly vivid and realistic. Harry is a wonderful, likable kid. His interactions with his sister, his changing relationship with his Dad, and his own story of personal growth and loss of innocence are alone worth the read. All Landsale's characters are compelling: the two children, their parents and grandmother - who is an absolute "original," Maggie, an ancient black woman, Mose, a beloved family friend, and all the townspeople, the family dog - even the killer - are amazingly three dimensional. Descriptions of the landscape, mouthwatering food, people, feelings, the weather, are written with great mastery and an eye for detail. I really couldn't put the book down. This Edgar Award winning novel is one of the best mystery/suspense-thrillers I have read in a long time.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 126 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Bottoms at MostlyFiction.com



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Hap Collins / Leonard Pine series:

Short Story Collections:

Written as Jack Buchanan (The Mark Stone Mia Hunter series)

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Joe R. LansdaleJoe R. Lansdale was born in 1951 in Gladewater, Texas. He wrote his first paid published piece at the age of 21, a non-fiction article coauthored with his mother. It won a prize for best letter article. He continued to write articles and then in the mid-seventies he began to sell fiction.

Now, with more than twenty books and 200 short stories to his credit, Lansdale is considered the champion Mojo storyteller. He's been called "the Stephen King of Texas" by Texas Monthly; "an immense talent" by Booklist; "a born storyteller" by Robert Bloch; and The New York Times Book Review declares he has "a folklorist's eye for telling detail and a front-porch raconteur's sense of pace." He's won many awards, including five Bram Stoker horror awards, a British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, the Horror Critics Award, the "Shot in the Dark" International Crime Writer's award, the Booklist Editor's Award, the Critic's Choice Award, and a New York Times Notable Book award. The Bottoms won the 2001 Edgar Awards for Best Novel.

Joe Lansdale is also a martial artist for over 35 years and an Inductee into the INTERNATIONAL MARTIAL ARTS HALL OF FAME as Founder / Grandmaster of Shen Chuan and certified Ninth Degree Black Belt by the World Martial Arts Alliance. Lansdale has also been inducted into the Texas Martial Arts Hall of Fame as well, and is a multiple black belt holder.

Lansdale lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, with his wife, Karen, writer and editor. They have a son and daughter

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