Friday, June 22, 2012

Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale

In Leather Maiden, journalist and Pulitzer-nominee Cason Statler returns to his small Texas hometown after a stint in Iraq, and takes a job at the local paper. Why would a Pulitzer-nominee do such a thing? Statler can’t seem to keep his relationships in order, and slept with the wife—oh, and the (grown-up) daughter—of his previous paper’s owner. He was fired in disgrace, of course. Home in Camp Rapture, bored with writing fluff pieces, and trying to distract himself from stalking his ex-girlfriend, he starts digging into a cold case: the disappearance of a young history student almost a year ago.

Stirring things up has unforeseen consequences, including another murder, and Cason finds that his brother, a history professor at the local college, had unseemly ties with the missing student. Not only does that make big brother a murder suspect, it also makes him ripe for blackmail. How far will Cason go to protect his brother? And who is really behind the increasingly numerous and grotesque killings?

Joe Lansdale is the author of the Hap and Leonard mystery series, in which two sort of hang-dog, not-so-bright, true-to-their-own-code type of ol’ boys tend to stumble in and out of violent situations, in the process solving a mystery and/or bringing on justice. Cason Statler appeared in at least one of the Hap and Leonard books—I think it was Devil Red—but Hap and Leonard aren’t in Statler’s book.

The tone is dark, gritty, sometimes lyrical, just what Lansdale does best. I tend to like hardcore serial murder mysteries, as long as the characterization can carry the body count—and I did like Leather Maiden, but with reservations. There were too many coincidences and convenient friends, a plot twist with no real underpinnings, and seriously gruesome dead bodies without good reason. Crazed killers do crazy things by definition—but these bodies really seemed gratuitous, going for shock value without any apparent link to the killers’ psychology. Nevertheless, if you like noir, if you like grit and murder mysteries with lots of action, if you like Joe Lansdale’s other books or the writing of Andrew Vachss—definitely check this out.

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