Category Archives: crime
There’s something about a carnival that makes for a good story. Too bad that didn’t work the other way around with equal effect. Some carnivals and sideshows are just awful. And the one imagined by Joe Lansdale in this novel sounds like it’d be kind of awful if I were to actually visit it. Fortunately, in the confines of this novel it was a real treat.
It takes a few chapters to get to the carnival, though. Before that, Lansdale introduces Bill as the protagonist. In just about any other story Bill would be the heel of the tale. He’s an unintelligent, willfully ignorant, deceitful thief. His mother is dead and rotting up in her bedroom, and he hasn’t bothered to inform anyone since the house isn’t willed to him. And even though he’d like to forge her signature on the checks that keep coming in the mail, he’s too devoid of talent to do it–and lacks the will to even try.
He does, however, get it into his head that he can make some money by robbing the fireworks stand across the road. And he really needs some money because he’s down to eating the canned beats in the cupboard of a powerless house. But Bill and his two cronies foul things up and winds up on the run, presumably a fugitive from the law. That is a bit of a tale all its own that you’ll have to read for yourself. It’s when he stumbles upon a freak show carnival in east Texas, tired and lost and his face deformed by insect bites, that his luck seems to turn around a little bit. His luck isn’t all the way turned around, mind you, as the cast of characters he meets all have their own story and Bill manages to get mixed up in all of their inner dealings too.
This was my first Lansdale novel and, boy, did I pick a wild one. The writing is a gritty, straight-forward kind of style peppered with slang and colloquialisms, some of them some real eye-catchers. I feel pretty safe in saying that this book offered the first occasion for me to see the words “stinky on his dinky.” Ever. And it was reading so much of the story from Bill’s point of view, as well as the entertaining dialogue, that really made this book stand out for me.
The ending felt a bit like a letdown, but that’s simply because it didn’t go in a direction I expected it to. That’s fine, but after such a slow buildup through the novel, I kind of expected a bigger payoff. Not a Hollywood, guns-a-blazin’ style ending, but something that would’ve let me close the book and let out a sigh of satisfaction. But, heck, it was still a fun ride and I am definitely on the hunt for more Lansdale novels to read.
If Lansdale fans have any suggestions, whether a Hap/Leonard novel or some short fiction, I’m all ears.
I have been a fan of Elmore Leonard’s work for many years, and by that I mean I have enjoyed many of the movies adapted from his novels. It wasn’t until this decade when I started to read novels of his not adapted to film that I realized it wasn’t so much the movies, but the stories I loved. The man knows how to spin a yarn.
Out of Sight is my favorite among all the films adapted from his work, and stars George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, and other notable actors. So, I figured it was about time I sat down and read the novel that inspired a damned good flick. And, I’m glad I did.
In the novel, Jack Foley is a middle-aged bank robber stuck in a federal prison–yet again. Karen Sisco is gorgeous and gritty … and a federal marshall visiting the same Florida prison where Jack is imprisoned, on the same night he makes his daring escape. Despite her attempt to thwart his escape, Karen ends up locked in the trunk with Jack in the back of Buddy’s–his best friend–getaway car. It’s in the cramped dark where their fascination with each other begins, as does Karen’s pursuit of Jack and every criminal he’s associated with outside.
If there’s one thing to admire in a Leonard novel, it’s the dialogue. Writers and critics alike praise the man’s ability to tell a tale nearly entirely through the conversations his characters have. I’m inclined to agree. Despite minimal descriptions of each character’s physical appearance, it’s pretty easy to visualize each of them. Things play out in an almost casual fashion despite a manhunt takes place throughout the book for Foley and the others who escaped the prison.
Foley’s old habits die hard, and he is most certainly not a reformed man. He is, however, a charismatic guy with a firm sense on reality … even though he comes close on more than one occasion to sabotaging his own freedom by risking a second encounter with the beautiful Karen Sisco. Sisco, herself, has her own fascination with Foley and wonders just what chance they might have if they’d met under different circumstances.
It’s a bit of a romance, a bit of a caper, and a whole lot of fun to read. Leonard knows the lingo, the personalities, and the near perfect ending.
On a side-note, this novel contains one of my favorite lines ever uttered: “You wanted to tussle? We tussled.” – Karen Sisco
I say that if you haven’t sampled an Elmore Leonard novel yet in your life, you’d be doing yourself a favor by starting with this one. For me, there’s a sequel of sorts out now or very soon called Road Dogs. Needless to say it’s on my wish list.