In this standalone, Edgar-award winning author, Joe R. Lansdale, whom “few can match” (Booklist) beams a light on an East Texas town where a QAnon-style, evangelist cult is brewing trouble.
Charlie Garner has a bad feeling. His ex-wife, Meg, has been missing for over a week and one quick peek into her home shows all her possessions packed up in boxes. Neighbors claim she’s running from bill collectors, but Charlie suspects something more sinister is afoot. Meg was last seen working at the local donut shop, a business run by a shadow group most refer to as ‘The Saucer People’; a space-age, evangelist cult who believe their compound to be the site of an extraterrestrial Second Coming.
Along with his brother, Felix, and beautiful, randy journalist Amelia “Scrappy” Moon, Charlie uncovers strange and frightening details about the compound (read: a massive, doomsday storehouse of weapons, a leashed chimpanzee!) When the body of their key informer is found dead with his arms ripped out of their sockets, Charlie knows he’s in danger but remains dogged in his quest to rescue Meg.
Brimming with colorful characters and Lansdale’s characteristic bounce, this rollicking crime novel examines the insidious rise of fringe groups and those under their sway with black comedy and glints of pathos.
I certainly remember well my first read penned by this author, a Hap and Leonard novella that I reviewed back in 2017. It was an unusual style of writing hard to forget, so when I saw this come up on NetGalley, couldn’t resist giving Lansdale another go—as I thought this might be the first in a new series. (Maybe not?)
Certainly intended to make a strong social statement regarding the seriousness of following a cult or cult leader blindly in an effort to redirect an unhappy existence—this just makes it worse. Or deadly even. If it wasn’t for the crazy characters and the dark Lansdale sense of humor imparted throughout the book, it would not be a book I’d pick up.
The hapless MCs are trying to do the right thing. Charlie is a mainly unsuccessful writer/former police officer while his brother Felix is a former psychologist now private investigator. Felix’s circle includes Cherry, an attorney. Charlie’s new squeeze is Amelia—better known as Scrappy. She’s a former dental hygienist who got very tired of dirty mouths and now wants to write a book regarding the “Saucer People,” a local cult being groomed to survive an impending invasion of aliens.
The depth with which the cult has pervaded the town and its people is revealed with the group’s investigation, finally winning over cynical Police Chief Nelson (one of the few not involved in the cult). The chief has a dog named Tag who is quickly among the characters you come to love. The storyline takes a serious turn as Charlie comes to believe his ex (Meg—whom he still has strong feelings for) and her new hubby are victims of the cult. It appears that their snitch has also been dispatched, obviously by a murderous monkey—okay, okay—not a monkey. A chimpanzee.
To say the plot turns deadly is not an over-statement—nor a spoiler. You’ll read it soon enough, which btw, (trigger alerts) is rife with crude language, violent description, and sexual innuendo. I guess it might be standard dialogue given the character’s backgrounds or may add some authenticity, but it’s the kind of humor that has you sniggering at the same time as your face reddens.
A biting scrutiny of a fringe compound that can hold a loyal but often deadly stranglehold on its followers searching for Nirvana. Written in the storytellers’ unusual writing style, this narrative will engage and entertain as many readers as it might turn off.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author and publisher through @NetGalley that in no way influenced this review. These are my honest thoughts.
Rosepoint Rating: Four Stars
Genre: Southern United States Fiction, Southern Fiction, Hard-Boiled Mystery
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Print Length: 305 pages
Publication Date: March 21, 2023
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
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The Author: 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.
A major motion picture based on Lansdale’s crime thriller Cold in July was released in May 2014, starring Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Sam Shepard (Black Hawk Down), and Don Johnson (Miami Vice). His novella Bubba Hotep was adapted to film by Don Coscarelli, starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. His story “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” was adapted to film for Showtime’s “Masters of Horror.” He is currently co-producing a TV series, “Hap and Leonard” for the Sundance Channel and films including The Bottoms, based on his Edgar Award-winning novel, with Bill Paxton and Brad Wyman, and The Drive-In, with Greg Nicotero.
Lansdale is the founder of the martial arts system Shen Chuan: Martial Science and its affiliate, Shen Chuan Family System. He is a member of both the United States and International Martial Arts Halls of Fame. He lives in Nacogdoches, Texas with his wife, dog, and two cats.
©2023 V Williams