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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Part murder mystery, part coming-of-age story, A Fine Dark Line is a wonderfully rendered thematic companion piece to The Bottoms, Lansdale's Edgar Awardwinning novel of murder and madness. This time out, Lansdale sets his narrative in 1958, in the fictional east Texas hamlet of Dewmont. Balancing gothic details -- buried secrets, sexual perversion, religious mania -- with the everyday pleasures and pains of family life, Lansdale filters his story through the eyes of Stanley Mitchell Jr., an uncommonly naïve 13-year-old who has just moved to Dewmont with his mother, father, and older sister.
The Mitchells own and run the Dew Drop Drive-in, a nostalgic artifact that Lansdale, the poet laureate of drive-ins, describes with accuracy and affection. Over a single eventful summer, Stanley learns about sex, cruelty, endemic racism, and the importance of family bonds. He also unearths a cache of documents pertaining to an unsolved 13-year-old murder case. Together with his sister, Callie, and an irascible, alcoholic projectionist named Buster Abbott Lighthorse Smith, he conducts an investigation of his own. Stanley's obsession with the murders of Margaret Wood, the daughter of a local prostitute, and Jewel Ann Stilwind, a member of Dewmont's leading family, forms the melodramatic center of the novel. But the real heart of this deeply engaging book is Stanley's gradually increasing awareness of the complex, often troubling nature of life in his new hometown. As he probes an unresolved crime, he finds himself in contact with a cast of characters who will alter and enlarge his understanding of the world. Among them are a battered young boy and his fanatical, sadistic father, a large-hearted black cook on the run from her abusive boyfriend, and a family of wealthy sexual predators -- the Stilwinds -- who wield money and influence like a club.
A Fine Dark Line is a touching, funny, effortlessly readable novel told in Lansdale's salty, unmistakable voice. It functions equally well as a novel of character, as a sharply observed evocation of the precivil rights South, and as an unconventional murder mystery. Like The Bottoms, it is both a memorable, authentic entertainment and an indelible portrait of a particular time and place. Bill Sheehan