Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale

Mysteries have changed over the years.  We started out with a theft, extortion, or even murder being solved by someone from the police, a consulting detective, or even a nice old lady who was pretty sharp and noticed things not seen or considered by others.

Over time, the crimes were described in much more brutal detail and the criminals started becoming more sadistic.  Now and over the last decade or so, it's hard to read even a very well written mystery that doesn't have a serial killer and some pretty explicit detail regarding the victim's plight.  That is the case with "The Bottoms."

In early 1930's east Texas, everyone is poor and living through hard times, including 12 year old Harry Collins and his younger sister Tom (Thomasina).  They've got decent parents doing the best they can, with Harry's dad working the farm, owning a barber shop, and also being the local constable.  When Harry and his sister find a "colored" woman brutally murdered down by the river, his dad tries to investigate.  The white population doesn't care and the "colored" folks don't want it investigated because eventually someone from their community will get lynched, even though they may not have done it.  When more bodies show up, the Klan verifies that opinion.  When the dust settles, Harry and his sister try to figure out if they got the right man.

The book feels and reads like "To Kill A Mockingbird" except the language is rougher when describing the black folks and the townspeople don't come across quite as genteel as TKAM.  That's probably because it feels closer to real life, but it doesn't make some of the reading any more comfortable.  It's a dark story pretty well told.

That said, I expected a bit more from an Edgar Award winning book.  Perhaps it's quibbling to expect consistent detail, but when grandma has a 32 pistol in one sentence and when she later pulls it out a couple of sentences later, it's a 38, it's kind of jarring.  Same for the shotgun she was holding later that turned into a rifle.  Hey, this isn't Harry Potter!  There were also outcomes near the end that you could see coming for a while and that's always disappointing.  Still, if you like mysteries, this one is better than most.

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