The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale

Little, Brown & Company
Publication date: Sept 10th, 2013

I’ve written before about how I feel Joe Lansdale is one of the 2 greatest living crime writers. In my eyes, the man can do no wrong at all. Something about his style just grabs me by the throat and leaves me with a sensation that I can’t ever get enough of. I was hooked on page one of Lost Echoes which is the first book I ever read by him. Lansdale is the kind of writer who aspiring writers should read every word the man has put down on a page. Off the top of my head, there has only been one book by Lansdale that I felt didn’t reach that spot for me and that was his last, Edge of Dark Water. I’m not saying it was a bad book. It just didn’t do it for me. Despite all that, I was no less excited about his new novel The Thicket.

It’s the turn of the century Texas and it’s not at all a friendly place. 16 year old Jack Parker and his family are not doing too well. His parents died in a smallpox epidemic that decimated their town. Jack’s grandfather comes to help bury his parents and to take Jack and his younger sister Lula to live with him. On the way, they cross paths with an outlaw named Cutthroat who believes wearing a dead man’s clothes will protect him from the smallpox. Cutthroat and 2 of his men murder Jack’s grandfather and kidnap Jack’s sister. They then take off for the badlands where they plan to meet up with the rest of their gang. Jack is not going to let anybody take his sister. He puts together a motley group of individuals to help him get her back. They include Shorty, a sharpshooting bounty hunting little person, an extremely large black man named Eustace with some tracking abilities, a former prostitute named Jimmie Sue, and a couple of other rather colorful characters.

Now this book, to me, is Lansdale back in his true form. It is a violent dark tale. It reminds me of a mash up of The Searchers and True Grit but viewed through a very twisted eye. Turn of the century Texas was a feral, nasty place to say the least. Details are provided to show just that. You can feel the muck and the mire pulling at your shoes as you read. The story also contains a liberal dose of heart so you’re not just reading some grindhouse pulp tale which is what you could say about some of Lansdale’s earlier work. The story moved slowly at a couple points but over all I don’t have a single thing to complain about it. I ride the subway a lot and I almost missed my stop on more than one occasion because of how engrossed I was in reading the book. Ok, final verdict. I truly enjoyed The Thicket. I did not love it but it held me deeply while reading. None of this changes my view of Lansdale being one of the 2 greatest living crime writers. With his last few books, you can see changes in subject and style. Its makes me curious to see where he is going and what will come next.

Dave Wahlman