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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Book review: The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale

 





AUTHOR INFO: Joe R. Lansdale is the author of over thirty novels and numerous short stories. His work has appeared in national anthologies, magazines, and collections, as well as numerous foreign publications. He has written for comics, television, film, newspapers, and Internet sites. His work has been collected in eighteen short-story collections, and he has edited or co-edited over a dozen anthologies.

Lansdale has received the Edgar Award, eight Bram Stoker Awards, the Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Grinzani Cavour Prize for Literature, the Herodotus Historical Fiction Award, the Inkpot Award for Contributions to Science Fiction and Fantasy, and many others.

Publisher: Mulholland Books (September 10, 2013) Print length: 353 Formats: ebook, paperback, hardback, audiobook

I was in the mood for a western bounty-hunting adventure. Preferably fast-paced and with a relatively high body count. Lansdale delivered all that and added some dark humor and a tender story to the mix.

Jack Parker lost his parents to a smallpox epidemic. His grandfather takes him and his sister Lula to live with their aunt in Kansas, but they don't get far. Three men ambush them, kill Grandpa, capture Lula, and leave Jack in the river.

There's no way he'll leave his little sister. But what can a 16-year-old boy do? On his own, not much. But with a little help? A lot. Jack secures the help of Shorty, a cunning dwarf and bounty hunter, and his friend Eustace, a gravedigging son of a former slave. A wild hog (named Hog) accompanies the two. Soon, other colorful characters join them to help them bring justice and take down bad guys.

Most readers will appreciate Lansdale's writing skills, his knack for memorable sentences, and his distinct characters. The crude humor (but what else would you expect in a western novel?) and outbursts of violence may not appeal to more sensitive readers, so have that in mind. 

The story is told in the first person by Jack, who's instantly likable and relatable. His innocence and naivete are balanced by his determination to find his sister. He paints a vivid picture of the world and the other characters, as well as the harsh realities of turn-of-the-century East Texas. 

Ultimately, The Thicket tells a simple story of pursuit and revenge. What sets it apart from a host of similar stories is Lansdale's impeccable timing and his ability to combine humor, horror, violence, tenderness, and love. The Thicket will have you laughing out loud, only to have you shocked moments later. Things get graphic.

Above all, though, The Thicket has strong, memorable, and well-written characters. The banter and history of Shorty and Eustace are consistently entertaining, and their relationship with Jack is surprising and sometimes even touching. Eustace is part black, white, and Indian and carries a shotgun. Shorty is an educated dwarf, a former army scout, and a good shot.

Lansdale doesn't do slow. Stuff is happening non-stop; the plot engages and makes you want to know what happens next. As a result, The Thicket is an entertaining and quick read.

The Thicket is an excellent Western novel. I wouldn't change a thing about it. Highly recommended.

Audiobook narration: Collyer has a simple but effective delivery style that makes his narration clear and engaging. His character differentiation is always clear and clean. He nails the attitudes of all of them.

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