Three Out Of Five Ain’t Bad: Lansdale’s More Better Deals.

More Better Deals

The to-be-read pile on the writing lair’s endtable was five books-high when my first two choices turned out to be real stinkers, one a painfully indulgent bit of rambling and plotless literary fiction, the other presumably mis-shelved in a bookstore’s mystery section, revealing itself as a pretty distasteful bit of crime-free erotica (I swear, the cover art made it look like a neo-noir thriller).

But, as the post’s title says, three out of five ain’t bad, particularly when those three were welcome treats after back-to-back (but un-named here) disappointments. First up:

Think of a James M. Cain novel seething with adultery and deceit, but filtered through someone like Orrie Hitt. Then think of that being fully reimagined by expert storyteller and wordsmith Joe R. Lansdale, and that’s what his More Better Deals (2020 Mulholland/Hatchette) is. Oh sure, you’ve been down this road before. But, always remember that it’s about the journey, not the destination.

In a vaguely early 1960’s nameless East Texas locale, Ed Edwards unloads overpriced junkers at Smiling Dave’s used car lot, his boss, customers – everyone in town, actually – unaware he’s the light-skinned son of a long-gone African-American father and a white trailer-trash alcoholic mother. Half-heartedly trying to help his similarly light-skinned younger sister while pointlessly daydreaming about something better than his own humdrum life, Ed meets trouble in a short black dress and heels — aiming a twelve gauge his way — when he attempts to repossess her boorish and abusive husband’s Cadillac.

Mrs. Nancy Craig’s a classic femme fatale fashioned from the long literary and cinematic history of desirable but deadly women who’ve manipulated foolish men with sex and the promise of money to share, so it’s no surprise when Ed Edwards is soon in deep: Plotting murder ala Double Indemnity or The Postman Always Rings Twice, reluctantly turned into a kidnapper when murder fails to pay off, and even stirring up trouble that puts years of ‘passing’ at risk.

Taking advantage of a slow Summer workday, I left the day job early this past Friday, started More Better Deals ‘round mid-afternoon and continued to devour this novel straight through dinner and deep into the wee hours, unable to put it down.  ‘It’s a real page-turner’ and all that…oh, that it is. With frustrating memories of that plotless bit of literary fiction still fresh in my head, it was pure joy to dive into a novel that took me by the hand right from page one and introduced engaging (if downright awful) characters descending deeper and deeper into a cesspool of lust laced with suspicion, double-dealing that leads to death. That Lansdale accomplishes this with an economy of words (yet never failing to paint a fully rendered picture of each locale) merely testifies to his skill. I challenge a reader to point out any paragraph, sentence, phrase or word that could be dispensed with. It’s the kind of writing I might aspire to but simply lack the talent to match (but I can keep on hoping…right?).

Call it “desert noir” or “rural noir” if you like, but More Better Deals is “Noir” at its purest, gifting readers with sizzle and violence, but ultimately grappling with much sadder, darker and woefully inevitable doom.

So, if I haven’t made my point yet, go get the damn book and read it.

(BTW: I’ve scanned my hardcover twice now, but it keeps showing up in red. The book’s really a two-color hot orange and brown design, in case you’re looking for it.) 

Speed Trap.

Jennifer Aniston 1

Presumably to promote their 2010 film The Bounty Hunter (guess I missed that one), costars Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler appeared in W Magazine’s 2010 photo suite “Speed Trap”, a desert noir lensed by Steven Klein.

Jennifer Aniston 4Jennifer Aniston 2

Paris, Texas…Revisited.

Paris Tx 2Cult film fave Wim Wenders’ 1984 Paris, Texas wasn’t really a neo-noir film…and yet it is, in its own weird way, isn’t it? Loosely based on co-writer Sam Shepard’s Motel Chronicles, and starring Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Dean Stockwell, the quirky, unsettling, and bleakly surreal movie says ‘desert noir’ in every shot. Enough so, apparently, to inspire photographer Steven Lippman to swap model Carolyn Murphy for Kinski for his own “Paris, Texas” photo suite, with spot-on recreations of memorable scenes from the film.

Paris Tx 3Paris Tx 4Paris Tx 5Paris Tx 6Paris Tx 7

Lovers & Drifters

Lovers & Drifters 1

A t-shirt and lacy tap pants go well with cowboy boots in a southwest milieu, at least in this gritty desert noir photo suite, “Lovers & Drifters” with Cora Keegan shot by Jason Lee Perry.

Lovers & Drfiters 2

But a word to the wise: Think twice when you slow down for an abandoned sedan on a rural highway shoulder. Not every car needs a jump, particularly if the driver’s missing her pants. And packing a really big gun…

Lovers & Drifters 4Lovers & Drifters 3Lovers & Drifters 5

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑