Go to Homepage   Joe R. Lansdale: The Bottoms

 

Crescent Blues Book ViewsWarner Books (Trade Paperback), ISBN 0446677922)

Aged, ill, and confined to a rest home, Harry Collins reminisces about his youth and a seminal event in his childhood. His remembrances take him back to East Texas in the years 1933 and 1934 when he was eleven years old. These were the depression years, and Harry's father Jacob provided for his family as owner of the local barbershop and by taking on additional duties as the town constable.

Book: Joe R Lansdale, the bottoms
Attentive to the harrowing stories about the legendary Goat Man, a half man and half goat said to roam the Sabine River bottoms, Harry and his younger sister Tom set out on a sad mission with their injured dog. Their path carries them through the woods and across the swinging bridge where the Goat Man reportedly lurks. There they stumble upon the mutilated body of a young black woman. After a frantic retreat while pursued by a creature they believe to be the Goat Man, the children find their way home and Harry reports the find to his father.

With the help of Dr. Tinn, the only black doctor in the area, Jacob Collins pieces together evidence concerning the killer's methods. This investigation, however, leads to a confrontation with the town's white doctor and creates tension between the white population and Jacob and his family.

A second murder victim confirms the belief that a serial killer preying on black prostitutes inhabits the area. The white population, however, remains unconcerned. They assume the killer comes from the black community. As long as no attacks on white women occur, the white community does not wish to be bothered. They believe in letting the black community take care of its own. Jacob, however, continues the investigation.

Book: Joe R Lansdale, a fine dark line
With the subsequent discovery of a white female victim, however, the white community's indifference turns to rage. Jacob's search reveals that an elderly black man, Old Mose, a long time resident of the community, possesses a purse belonging to the latest victim. Mose explains that he found the purse along the banks of the Sabine River and knows nothing of the murder. Reluctantly, Jacob places Old Mose under arrest but hides him to protect him from Klan violence. Word of the arrest spreads, and members of the white community accuse Jacob of protecting the blacks. A visit from the Klan ensues, and a horrible lynching takes place.

Jacob, distraught by this turn of events, turns to alcohol and withdraws from contact with the community. Despite these circumstances, the bond between him and his son grows. Harry assumes an important part of the investigation and serves as a source of support for the family. At the successful conclusion of the case, Harry recognizes a new feeling of responsibility and maturity.

This Edgar award-winning novel satisfies on several levels. First, it provides an intriguing and unusual mystery full of suspects, suspense and surprises. Secondly, Lansdale does a masterful job of depicting East Texas mores during the early part of the 20th century. Finally, the book presents a well-crafted coming of age story told from the unique perspective of the now elderly protagonist.

Clinton Hunter

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