Joe R. Lansdale


"Leather Maiden"

(Reviewed by Guy Savage DEC 12, 2008)

"When you grow up in a place, especially if your childhood is a good one, you fail to notice a lot of the nasty things that creep beneath the surface and wriggle about like hungry worms in rotten flesh. But they’re there. Sometimes you have to dig to discover them, or slant your head in just the right direction to see them. But they’re there all right, and the things that wriggle can include blackmail, mutilation and murder. And I can vouch firsthand that this is true."

Author Joe R. Lansdale is a new name for me, and if he’s a new name for you too, then I first have this to say: someone needs to tell the Coen Brothers to take a look at the novel, Leather Maiden. Termed Country Noir, it’s perfect material for a Coen Brothers film--a slightly bizarre, intense look at an off-kilter sub-culture that could only exist within its narrow confines. In Leather Maiden, the sub-culture focus is the tight-knit community of Camp Rapture, East Texas. It’s the sort of drab little town you grow up in dreaming of escape, and it’s the sort of town you come back to only if you’re a real loser.

So that brings me to the loser/protagonist of the novel, Cason Statler. An Iraq War veteran, and a Pulitzer Prize-nominated Journalist, Statler is back in Camp Rapture and the newest employee of the town’s dreary, dull little newspaper Camp Rapture Report. Statler’s career is at its lowest point after being fired for sexual shenanigans from a big city newspaper, and he’s come back home, taking the only job he can get.

Author Lansdale’s wickedly perceptive and descriptive novel takes a mean look at the locals, and it’s clear from page one that this is a nasty little town full of bizarre characters--people who seem to have sprung from the soil of East Texas. With racism as an accepted way of life, Camp Rapture seems locked in sort of unique time warp all of its own, and this partially explains why some people never leave the soil they thrive in. Lansdale captures the uniqueness of this obscure, unpleasant little town by creating a novel with atmosphere dominated by character--Statler’s tough-talking, physically repulsive editor, Margot Timpson, for example:

“hair too red on the sides and too pink in the thin spots. Her face was eroded with deep canals over which a cheap powder had been caked, like sand over the Sphinx. Her breasts rested comfortably in her lap; they seemed to have recently died and she just hadn’t taken the time to dispose of them.”

Statler’s job is to write the paper’s column, and it’s mostly a job for a grown up-girl scout. Statler’s predecessor mainly worked on stories that were “as exciting as counting armpit hair,” but then Statler comes across the story of the disappearance of an ethereally beautiful college student named Caroline Allison. Caroline, a foster child with little past was a promising history student. There are no clues to her disappearance, and the case is considered closed. She has simply vanished, leaving the barest traces of her life behind. Statler, in spite of his problem with booze, can still sniff a good news story, and so he starts digging around into the facts of this cold case.

Morgue worker, Jack Mercury, a man who collects information and looks for connections hints that there’s more to Caroline’s disappearance than meets the eye, and he’s been collecting stories concerning some of the bizarre incidents recently taking place in Camp Rapture:

“You see cop shows all the time where someone says they don’t believe in coincidence, and let me tell you, those people are idiots. Coincidence is rife all over, my friend, but even though I believe in coincidence, I also believe in pattern and design. You have to pay attention and see the simple pattern under the chaos, beneath and between the coincidence.”

As Statler starts digging into Caroline’s disappearance, he realizes that she’s not the only girl missing, and just as he begins to uncover the truth, he also discovers a chain of deception and blackmail that hits home in the most painful ways. Soon the psychopathic Boogar, a fellow veteran, joins Statler. Boogar, who’s violent and explosive isn’t exactly Statler’s friend, “he may be more of an attachment, like a growth of some sort.” Boogar is the sort of man it’s easy to underestimate:

“Some people thought because he was raw he was stupid. That would be far from the truth. And he had an instinct about things, could see the slightest disruption in the force. Not that he gave a damn how anyone felt, but he had keen radar.”

Leather Maiden is possibly the most suspenseful novel I’ve read since Silence of the Lambs. Lansdale’s atmospheric, and relentlessly dark novel is a convincingly grotesque East Texas landscape of characters. The author keeps the more gruesome details to a minimum and instead concentrates on creating a creepy environment, with locals locked into sick relationships, silence, and pathological disinterest. Lansdale’s burned-out protagonist scrapes the surface of this fictional town with his quest for the news, and we read as the cockroaches come out.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 23 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Leather Maiden at Random House

Editor's Note: Leather Maiden is set in the same town as Sunset and Sawdust



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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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