Author: Joe Lansdale
Original language: English
It is the summer of 1958 in Dewmont, Texas, a town the great American postwar boom passed by. The kids listen idly to rockabilly on the radio and waste their weekends at the Dairy Queen. And an undetected menace simmers under the heat that clings to the skin like molasses… For thirteen-year-old Stanley Mitchell, the end of innocence comes with his discovery of the mysterious long-ago demise of two very different young women. In his quest to unravel the truth about their tragic fates, Stanley finds a protector in Buster Lighthorse Smith, a black, retired Indian-reservation cop and a sage on the finer points of Sherlock Holmes, the blues, and life’s faded dreams. But not every buried thing stays dead. And on one terrifying night of rushing creek water and thundering rain, an arcane, murderous force will rise from the past to threaten the boy in a harrowing rite of passage… Vintage Lansdale, A Fine Dark Line brims with exquisite suspense, powerful characterizations, and the vibrant evocation of a lost time.
From Publishers Weekly
The atmosphere is as thick as an East Texas summer day in Edgar-winner Lansdale’s (The Bottoms) engaging, multilayered regional mystery, which harks back to 1958. Thirteen-year-old Stanley Mitchel, Jr., has enough on his hands just growing up in Dewmont, Tex., when he literally stumbles on a buried cache of love letters. Stanley pursues the identity of the two lovers with help from the projectionist at his family’s drive-in, an aged black man who quotes Sherlock Holmes and doesn’t mince words about the world’s injustices. As the truth of a gruesome 20-year-old double murder comes to light in the sleepy town, so do the facts of life, death, men, women and race for young Stanley. Unfortunately, this wealth of experience sometimes strains credulity. For instance, Stanley, his sister, Callie, and friend Richard witness a secret burial, see a local phantom, are chased by a murderer and barely miss being hit by a train-all in one night. As the older and wiser Stanley says of the past, “More had happened to my family in one summer than had happened in my entire life.” The “down-home” dialect is occasionally overdone, too, with more ripe sayings than Ross Perot on caffeine. But Lansdale clearly knows and loves his subject and enlivens his haunting coming-of-age tale with touches of folklore and humor.
Lansdale makes a rich stew of memory and mystery in the voice of Stanley Mitchel Jr., who is 13 in 1958 and is writing down, in midlife, what he recalls. His parents own the drive-in in Dewmont, Texas; his dad calls his mom “Gal”; his sister, Callie, is turn-your-head pretty and feisty besides. Stanley finds in the burnt ruins behind the drive-in a cache of love letters. Stanley–innocent enough at the beginning of the story to still believe in Santa Claus–is fascinated by the letters and soon learns that the fire marked the deaths of two young women, long ago. Those deaths ripple through the pages, as Stanley struggles with knowledge of good and evil: his friend Richard’s abusive dad; the black cook’s stalker boyfriend; the drive-in projectionist who faces twin demons of age and alcohol. Stanley’s mother, father, and sister are vivid, glowing personages. Stanley doesn’t unravel everything, but race and power, and what people do to each other in the name of desire and religion, coalesce to a mighty climax.