Sunset and Sawdust

( 13 )

Overview

In the middle of a cyclone, beautiful, red-haired Sunset Jones shoots her husband Pete dead when he tries to beat and rape her. To Camp Rapture’s general consternation, Sunset’s mother-in-law arranges for her to take over from Pete as town constable. As if that weren’t hard enough to swallow in depression era east Texas, Sunset actually takes the job seriously, and her investigation into a brutal double murder pulls her into a maelstrom of greed, corruption, and unspeakable malice. It is a case that will require ...
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Overview

In the middle of a cyclone, beautiful, red-haired Sunset Jones shoots her husband Pete dead when he tries to beat and rape her. To Camp Rapture’s general consternation, Sunset’s mother-in-law arranges for her to take over from Pete as town constable. As if that weren’t hard enough to swallow in depression era east Texas, Sunset actually takes the job seriously, and her investigation into a brutal double murder pulls her into a maelstrom of greed, corruption, and unspeakable malice. It is a case that will require a well of inner strength she never knew she had. Spirited and electrifying, Sunset and Sawdust is a mystery and a tale like nothing you’ve read before.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[Sunset and Sawdust is] filled with turns and twists, nastiness, broad humor, moments of grace. . . . Lansdale is a storyteller in the great American tradition.” –The Boston Globe

“A wonderfully nasty piece of work [that] inspires I-can’t-believe-this laughter. . . . Very entertaining.” –Newsday

The opening . . . will grab unsuspecting readers by the lapels and pull them right in. . . . Lansdale's prose--laconic and sarcastic--is so thick with slang and regional accent that it's as tasty as a well-cured piece of beef jerky." --The Denver Post

"Lansdale is an exceptional storyteller . . . readers will feel the Texas heat and hear the story in the author's unique East Texas drawl. The vivid characterization will make readers cheer for the protagonist and boo the villain." --Rocky Mountain News

“Delivers the unexpected and bizarre that his fans have come to expect. . . . The narrative is entertaining, but Lansdale’s patently unvarnished storytelling–backwoods and brash all at once–is the real reason to crack this cover.” --Texas Monthly

"Funny, bloody and bizarre. . . . Another five-star doozy of a tale from an immensely talented and original storyteller." --The Flint Journal

“Sunset Jones is the kind of woman that men who drink in East Texas bars would call a ‘pistol.’ As a tornado rips through the sawmill camp town of Rapture, in the rousing opening scene of Joe R. Lansdale’s historical barnburner Sunset and Sawdust, Sunset finally puts a stop to her husband Pete’s bloody beatings. . . . Soon Sunset has her own posse, including a wonderful dog whose abject adoration of the fiery gunslinger pretty much sums up this reader’s feelings.” --The New York Times Book Review

"A first-rate whodunnit. . . . [Lansdale] knows how to tell a story." --The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“Sly, easy-paced and so comfortable in its setting that it becomes almost seductive. This is what good storytelling is all about.” --Arizona Republic

"Lansdale can catch that meandering East Texas twang in his writing, but just as quickly he can tighten the plot and our stomachs with a turn of phrase. . . . Lansdale gives us both atmosphere and action." --Winston-Salem Journal

"Surrealistic. . . . Unpredictable. . . . A darker kind of storytelling." --Pittsburg Tribune-Review

The New York Times
In language as raw and leathery as the people who make their hard living in this Depression-era company town, Lansdale lets us hear the prevailing rural wisdom about women who take care of business on their own terms. ''I don't think a woman ought to just be able to shoot a husband, she wants to,'' one man says. ''Get that started, things in ever kind of way will get turned over and sat on.'' And that goes double for the cowed black workers, who are the first to benefit from Sunset's fair-minded, if unorthodox, methods of enforcing the law in matters ranging from lynchings to land fraud. Soon Sunset has her own posse, including a wonderful dog whose abject adoration of the fiery gunslinger pretty much sums up this reader's feelings. — Marilyn Stasio
Publishers Weekly
The prolific Lansdale's novels (The Bottoms; Rumble Tumble; Bad Chili) are always wild and wooly, and this redneck noir stand-alone is no exception. Lansdale has shifted the time frame to the 1930s, but the novel is still set in his usual series location, East Texas-and it's still peopled by the oddest bunch of characters ever to leap off the page. The book opens in the midst of a cyclone as beautiful red-haired Sunset Jones is being beaten and raped by her no-good husband, Pete, in their ramshackle home. Fearing for her life, Sunset picks up Pete's .38 revolver (he's the town constable) and shoots him dead, just as the cyclone carries off most of their house. After recovering from the beating ("She felt as if she had been set on fire and put out with a yard rake"), she's elected to complete the remainder of Pete's term as constable, and she's more than equal to the task. A couple of dead bodies and a land fraud scheme come to light, along with some of the creepiest low-life bad guys to ever crawl out from under a rock. The mystery is only mildly engrossing here; the great pleasure of Lansdale's work lies in his pitch-perfect vernacular prose ("He had greeted them as they climbed into the car, and they hadn't said so much as eat shit or howdy"). The book opens with a cyclone, ends with a plague of grasshoppers and in between there's insanity, extreme violence, sex, grotesques aplenty and an excellent dog. What's not to like? (Mar.) Forecast: Lansdale's fan base is rabidly loyal and has been slowly expanding. A hip, new-look cover may help push him out of the realms of cult favorite and into the literary mainstream. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Lansdale returns to Depression-era East Texas in a splendidly profane Southern Gothic as dark and rank as night soil. After shooting her spouse during conjugal rape, spunky redhead Sunset Jones winds up with his job as constable of the rough-hewn lumber town of Camp Rapture, thanks to the influence of a mother-in-law whose own marital woes are brought to an abrupt and gory end when her man lies down on the job at the sawmill. Already unpopular for thwarting a lynching, Sunset and her deputies-a devilishly handsome vagabond and his mulish rival-get in over their heads in a stew of greed and brutality when the oil-covered corpses of a mother and her newborn are plowed up in a black farmer's field. The plot is swift if a bit catawampus, with pungent atmosphere, sly humor, and striking characters such as the prodigal preacher and the outr enforcer and his deranged, soul-sucking triggerman. Landsdale finds a fecund middle ground between the stark restraint of his Edgar Award-winning The Bottoms and the fantastic grotesqueries of his early works. Fans of either will be riveted by this bloody wreck at the muddy intersection of William Faulkner and Quentin Tarantino. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/03.]-David Wright, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An East Texas lumber town steeped in racism, sin, and mendacity-everything that should make for a much better yarn. Let it never be said that Lansdale (A Fine Dark Line, 2002, etc.) doesn't know how to open a story. He starts off here in the middle of a raging cyclone as buxom redhead Sunset, who's just been severely beaten and almost raped by her husband Pete, shoots him with his own .38-right before the storm tears their house off its foundation. Even though Pete was the local constable, he wasn't the most likable of men, and so, even though most of the locals don't care that he used to rape her, Sunset isn't charged for murder and is even able to convince them to let her take over as constable in his stead. Tough and quick-minded, Sunset has pretty much all she needs to survive in this tough, sweaty end of Depression-era East Texas, even with all the drunk oil workers and Klan types around. Lansdale has a decent amount of fun setting up tough scenarios for the constable and her two deputies, dependable Clyde and deadly handsome ex-hobo Hillbilly, to battle through. But grit and salty language can get you only so far: a mystery has to be invented. This time, it's the unsolved case of the dead baby found on the land of one Zendo, a black man who's the envy of most white farmers thanks to the richness of his topsoil. A little digging by Sunset finds another body, as well as some deep, dirty secrets of the kind fostered in most fictional small towns. Lansdale dishes out the cornpone with relish, never fearing to say things like a man's wilted tie "fell over his chest like a strangled man's tongue." This tendency, not to mention the creation of whipsmart but hot-to-trot Sunset, makes thepages fly by-until the story's vacant center becomes apparent. A slutty kind of fiction that seems to give everything up too easily but never quite delivers. First printing of 40,000. Agent: Jimmy Vines
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375719226
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/4/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 280,887
  • Product dimensions: 5.15 (w) x 7.98 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Joe R. Lansdale has written more than a dozen novels in the suspense, horror, and Western genres. He has also edited several anthologies. He has received the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, six Bram Stoker Awards, and the 2001 Edgar Award for best novel from the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Nacogdoches, Texas, with his family.
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Read an Excerpt

On the afternoon it rained frogs, sun perch, and minnows, Sunset discovered she could take a beating good as Three-Fingered Jack. Unlike Jack, who had taken his in the sunshine, she took hers in her own home at the tail end of a cyclone, the windows rattling, the roof lifting, the hardwood floor cold as stone.

She was on her back wearing only the top half of her dress, because the bottom half had been ripped away when Pete, during the process of beating her, had stepped on it, and the dress, rotten as politics, had torn and left her clothed only from waist to shoulders.

It went through her mind that she was down to two dresses now, and that she hated to see this one go, as it, though faded, had a flowery pattern she liked and the colors blended well with the stains.

But this was a passing thought. She was mostly thinking: How can I stop him from hitting me? She was trying to do this by holding her hands up, but he was beating them down, and her own arms and hands flying back into her face were doing near the damage his fists might have.

Finally, he hammered her to the floor, followed her down, spread her legs, went to tearing and clawing off the rest of her clothes.

When the top of her dress ripped open and he jerked loose one side of her bra, revealing her, he said, "There's that tittie." His speech was slurred and his breath seemed to bleed alcohol.

He raked at her undergarments, tore them and tossed them. When he snapped his gun belt free, he tossed it nearby, and while he was on her, tugging at his zipper, trying to put the mule in the barn, Sunset reached over and slipped his .38 revolver from its holster, and without him being aware, put it to his head, gave him one in the temple.

When she pulled the trigger the shot was loud as Gabriel blowing her up to heaven, but it was Pete who went to heaven. Or departed anyway. Sunset liked to think he got a nice chair in hell, right next to the oven.

But in that moment, the shot made her scream, once, sharp and hard as if she had taken the bullet, or as if she had just received a slap on the bottom at birth.

Pete went limp, not only in the organ he had intended to use, but all over. He said not a word. No "Ouch," "Oh shit," or "Can you believe that?" Things he liked to say under normal circumstances, moments of surprise and duress.

He just took the hot load, cut a fart near loud as the .38 shot, collapsed, and rode on out on Death's black horse.

If it wasn't bad enough she had lost her dress, underclothes, and dignity, now all the windows on the east side shook like Marley's chains, then exploded. The door leaped apart as if it had never been anything other than a loosely connected puzzle, and the wind took the roof away.

She lay there on her back, fragments of clothes fastened to her body, her old flat-heeled shoes still on her feet, a piece of window glass poking out of her shoulder, Pete lying heavy against her. She still had the gun in her hand. The shot had gone in small and hadn't come out big like she expected. It must have been a bad load, jumping around in his brain, making jelly of it. Blood ran from the wound, out of his nose and onto her.

She rolled him off and looked at him. No mistaking. He wasn't going to recover from this.

"Surprised you, didn't I?" Sunset said.

She studied Pete for a long moment, then started to scream as if a banshee were inside of her. But it wasn't screaming you would have heard if you had been in the other room. It was loud enough, but the storm was louder. The house rocked, squeaked, squealed, and whined.

Then, except for the floor, two ugly chairs, an iron cookstove, Sunset and the dead man, it was all sucked up and thrown lickety-split on down country.

Sunset, screaming, clung to the floor while the storm raved on.

The moment the storm passed, the sky turned clear and the sun poked out and stoked up the heat. It was as if the cool wind and rain had never been.

Sunset stood up, weak and bleeding, fragments of her clothes falling from her. She pulled the piece of glass from her shoulder. It came out smooth without causing too much damage, hardly any blood.

Naked, except for her shoes and the gun she was holding, she wandered off of what remained of her house, stumbled down the muddy clay road in front of the place, frogs, minnows, and perch hopping and flapping beneath her shoes.

She felt as lost as Cain after he killed Abel.

She saw Pete's car, turned over and smashed up, bent in half between two big oak trees as if it had been made of wet licorice. Nearby, his wooden file cabinet was burst open and there were files all over the place.

Fatefully, she came across one of her curtains, made from a flour sack and dyed blue. It had wrapped itself around a scrub tree limb and was hanging there like it was on the arm of a valet.

Sunset draped it around the lower part of her body, pulled her long red hair down over her breasts, started down the road again, mud squishing around her shoes.

Stooping to yank a mashed frog from the bottom of her shoe, she looked up to see the colored knife sharpener, Uncle Riley, coming down the road with his two mules and wagon. Uncle Riley's son, Tommy, was walking alongside him, spearing sun perch from the ground with a sharp stick, flipping them into the wagon bed.

Uncle Riley pulled on the reins when he saw her, said, "Oh, hell. Now I ain't looking, Miss White Woman. Really. And Tommy, he ain't neither. We ain't seeing a thing."

But Tommy was seeing plenty. Sunset's breasts were poking through her red hair, and Tommy had never seen breasts before, white or black, except those of his mama when suckling, but that was a long-lost memory.

Sunset, at that moment, didn't care who saw what. She was bleeding from nose and mouth and her eyes were starting to swell shut. She felt as if she had been set on fire and put out with a yard rake.

"Uncle Riley," she said, "it's me, Sunset. I been beat."

"Oh, Lord, chile, you sure have. I'm gonna get down and help you. Don't shoot at nothing now, you hear?"

Sunset staggered to one knee, tried to get up, couldn't.

Uncle Riley, who was six-four and forty-four, weighed two-twenty and had a slick bald head he covered with a droopy hat, climbed down from the wagon, took off his work shirt, kept his head turned as he walked toward her.

Uncle Riley put the shirt over Sunset's shoulders. She dropped the curtain and pulled the shirt shut and buttoned it with her free hand. All this from where she knelt on one knee. She tried again to get up, but couldn't. Uncle Riley lifted her into his arms easy as a child. She clung to the pistol as if it were a part of her hand.

He carried her to the wagon and set her on the seat, climbed up beside her. "Now I ain't touching on you, Miss Sunset."

"It's okay, Uncle Riley. You've been a real gentleman."

Tommy, who was standing beside the wagon with a fish stuck on the end of his pointed stick, had yet to close his mouth.

"Get on up here," Uncle Riley said.

Tommy climbed in the back of the wagon with the fish they had been collecting. They were scattered from one end of the wagon bed to the other, and in places they were ankle deep. Uncle Riley had seen the rain of fish as a bonus from God. Fish to eat, fish to salt and smoke for later. They had even gathered a few frogs because Tommy's mama, the midwife, Cary, liked frog legs.

Now Tommy wondered if the fish would keep because it was turning hot again and they were having to haul around this beat-up, big-tittied white woman. What in heaven's name were they going to do with her?

Tommy thought: Her hair is so long and red and wild it looks like tumbling fire. He smiled to himself. Good Lord, he had seen fish rain from the skies and he had seen a white woman's tits. It had been a special day.

"Miss Sunset, I haul you around like this, they gonna kill me," Uncle Riley said.

"Not with me with you they won't."

Sunset heard her mouth say the right things, but she felt as if it were all a dream. She scratched a place behind her ear with the barrel of the .38.

"Missy, they ain't gonna believe me. They ain't gonna believe you."

"They'll believe me."

"My cousin Jim, he just seen a white woman bending over in her yard, taking hanging clothes from a basket, and though there wasn't nothing to see cause she had her clothes on and he was up on the road, a white man seen him look at her, and for that, the word got around and them Kluxers took Jim out and castrated him, poured turpentine on thecuts."

"I tell you, it'll be okay."

"What's your husband, Mr. Pete, gonna say?"

"He ain't gonna say nothing, Uncle Riley. I blew his brains out."

"Oh, my goodness."

"Take me to my mother-in-law's."

"Sure you want to go to your mama-in-law's?" Uncle Riley said.

"My daughter's there. Ain't got nowhere else to go."

"Don't know Miss Marilyn gonna take kindly to you shooting her boy."

"I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. Oh, God, what is Karen going to think?"

"She surely loves her daddy."

"She does."

"They gonna castrate me and my boy."

"No, they're not. I'll see to it. For heaven's sake, Uncle Riley, I've known you all my life. Your wife helped deliver my baby."

"White folks forget them things when they want to. And with this Depression on, people just meaner anyhow."

The storm had come so fast and furious, it was hard to accept all the sunlight and heat, but already the fish in the back of the wagon were beginning to smell.

The leather harnesses creaked and the oat-and-hay-stoked bellies of the mules made strange gurgling and trumpeting sounds. From time to time the mules lifted their tails and farted or did their business, jerked their heads and snatched at greenery, and there was plenty of it, because the trail was narrow and the limbs of trees poked out over it, tempting the mules with their leaves.

The wagon squeaked and jostled along the muddy road and the steam from the mud drying rose up in thin wisps and there was a smell like pottery firing in a kiln. The sun burned and gnawed at Sunset's wounds and bruises.

"I feel like I'm gonna pass out," Sunset said.

"Don't do that, now, Miss Sunset. It bad enough you near naked riding along with a nigger, you don't need to have your head on my shoulder."

Sunset dipped her head and the feeling passed. When she sat back up and started to wipe her forehead with the back of her hand, she realized the gun was still in it.

"Maybe I ought to leave this with you?"

"No, ma'am. You don't want to leave that gun with me. Next thing I know, I'm the one done shot him."

"I'll explain."

"White folks find him dead, then see me, they gonna want a nigger anyhow. They see Mr. Pete's gun in my wagon, and him being a lawman and all, me and this boy be strung up faster than you can say, 'Let's get us a nigger.'"

"All right," Sunset said. "I thank you and Tommy, I truly do."

"Besides, you might need that gun when you tell Miss Marilyn what you done did. And you don't need it for her, you might need it for her husband, Mr. Jones."

"When I tell my daughter, I might want to use it on myself."

"Don't talk like that now."

"I can't believe I did it."

"He beat on you like that, Miss Sunset, he deserved killing. I ain't got no truck with a man beats on a woman. You done what you had to do."

"I could have just shot him in the leg or the foot, I guess."

"You done what you had to do." Uncle Riley studied her face. "Damn, Miss Sunset, ain't seen a beating that bad since he whupped up on Three-Fingered Jack. You remember that?"

"I do."

"Boy, he beat that man like he stole something."

"He did. My husband's girlfriend."

"Guess I ought not to have brought that up."

"He taught me how to shoot, Uncle Riley. Can you believe that? Taught me how to shoot a pistol, shotgun and rifle. Taught me until he thought maybe I was getting too good. After we married, he didn't want me to do nothing...I can't believe I shot him. I could have just got hit and he'd have got what he wanted and it'd been over. Wouldn't have been the first time. Karen would have a daddy. Thing is, though, he could have had what he wanted without all that, Uncle Riley. I'd have given in without all that. All he'd have to have done was talk sweet. But he liked it rough, even if he didn't have to. I think he was sweet to his girlfriends, but me, he beat."

"Don't talk to me about that, girl. I don't need to hear about it."

"He was bad enough about such, but when he drank, he was mean as a cottonmouth."

"Your hair sure is red," Tommy said.

"Damn, boy," Uncle Riley said. "Miss Sunset don't need you talking about her hair right now. Get on back there and sort them fish out or something."

"They all the same."

"Well, count them, boy."

"It's all right, Uncle Riley. Yeah, Tommy. It's red. My mama used to say red as sunset, so that's what people call me."

"That ain't your name?" Tommy asked.

"It is now. In the Bible they wrote Carrie Lynn Beck. But everyone called me Sunset. Got married I became Jones."

Sunset burst into tears.

"Go on back there now and sit down," Uncle Riley told Tommy.

"I didn't do nothing," Tommy said.

"Boy, you want your ass shined? Go back there."

Tommy moved back a ways, sat down amidst the fish. They were still damp and wet against his pants and he didn't like it, but he sat. He knew he had pushed about as far as he could push, and the next push the wagon would stop and he'd have his daddy's hand across the seat of his pants, or worse, he'd have to go break off his own switch for his daddy to use.

From the Hardcover edition.

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First Chapter

On the afternoon it rained frogs, sun perch, and minnows, Sunset discovered she could take a beating good as Three-Fingered Jack. Unlike Jack, who had taken his in the sunshine, she took hers in her own home at the tail end of a cyclone, the windows rattling, the roof lifting, the hardwood floor cold as stone.

She was on her back wearing only the top half of her dress, because the bottom half had been ripped away when Pete, during the process of beating her, had stepped on it, and the dress, rotten as politics, had torn and left her clothed only from waist to shoulders.

It went through her mind that she was down to two dresses now, and that she hated to see this one go, as it, though faded, had a flowery pattern she liked and the colors blended well with the stains.

But this was a passing thought. She was mostly thinking: How can I stop him from hitting me? She was trying to do this by holding her hands up, but he was beating them down, and her own arms and hands flying back into her face were doing near the damage his fists might have.

Finally, he hammered her to the floor, followed her down, spread her legs, went to tearing and clawing off the rest of her clothes.

When the top of her dress ripped open and he jerked loose one side of her bra, revealing her, he said, "There's that tittie." His speech was slurred and his breath seemed to bleed alcohol.

He raked at her undergarments, tore them and tossed them. When he snapped his gun belt free, he tossed it nearby, and while he was on her, tugging at his zipper, trying to put the mule in the barn, Sunset reached over and slipped his .38 revolver from its holster, and withouthim being aware, put it to his head, gave him one in the temple.

When she pulled the trigger the shot was loud as Gabriel blowing her up to heaven, but it was Pete who went to heaven. Or departed anyway. Sunset liked to think he got a nice chair in hell, right next to the oven.

But in that moment, the shot made her scream, once, sharp and hard as if she had taken the bullet, or as if she had just received a slap on the bottom at birth.

Pete went limp, not only in the organ he had intended to use, but all over. He said not a word. No "Ouch," "Oh shit," or "Can you believe that?" Things he liked to say under normal circumstances, moments of surprise and duress.

He just took the hot load, cut a fart near loud as the .38 shot, collapsed, and rode on out on Death's black horse.

If it wasn't bad enough she had lost her dress, underclothes, and dignity, now all the windows on the east side shook like Marley's chains, then exploded. The door leaped apart as if it had never been anything other than a loosely connected puzzle, and the wind took the roof away.

She lay there on her back, fragments of clothes fastened to her body, her old flat-heeled shoes still on her feet, a piece of window glass poking out of her shoulder, Pete lying heavy against her. She still had the gun in her hand. The shot had gone in small and hadn't come out big like she expected. It must have been a bad load, jumping around in his brain, making jelly of it. Blood ran from the wound, out of his nose and onto her.

She rolled him off and looked at him. No mistaking. He wasn't going to recover from this.

"Surprised you, didn't I?" Sunset said.

She studied Pete for a long moment, then started to scream as if a banshee were inside of her. But it wasn't screaming you would have heard if you had been in the other room. It was loud enough, but the storm was louder. The house rocked, squeaked, squealed, and whined.

Then, except for the floor, two ugly chairs, an iron cookstove, Sunset and the dead man, it was all sucked up and thrown lickety-split on down country.

Sunset, screaming, clung to the floor while the storm raved on.



The moment the storm passed, the sky turned clear and the sun poked out and stoked up the heat. It was as if the cool wind and rain had never been.

Sunset stood up, weak and bleeding, fragments of her clothes falling from her. She pulled the piece of glass from her shoulder. It came out smooth without causing too much damage, hardly any blood.

Naked, except for her shoes and the gun she was holding, she wandered off of what remained of her house, stumbled down the muddy clay road in front of the place, frogs, minnows, and perch hopping and flapping beneath her shoes.

She felt as lost as Cain after he killed Abel.

She saw Pete's car, turned over and smashed up, bent in half between two big oak trees as if it had been made of wet licorice. Nearby, his wooden file cabinet was burst open and there were files all over the place.

Fatefully, she came across one of her curtains, made from a flour sack and dyed blue. It had wrapped itself around a scrub tree limb and was hanging there like it was on the arm of a valet.

Sunset draped it around the lower part of her body, pulled her long red hair down over her breasts, started down the road again, mud squishing around her shoes.

Stooping to yank a mashed frog from the bottom of her shoe, she looked up to see the colored knife sharpener, Uncle Riley, coming down the road with his two mules and wagon. Uncle Riley's son, Tommy, was walking alongside him, spearing sun perch from the ground with a sharp stick, flipping them into the wagon bed.

Uncle Riley pulled on the reins when he saw her, said, "Oh, hell. Now I ain't looking, Miss White Woman. Really. And Tommy, he ain't neither. We ain't seeing a thing."

But Tommy was seeing plenty. Sunset's breasts were poking through her red hair, and Tommy had never seen breasts before, white or black, except those of his mama when suckling, but that was a long-lost memory.

Sunset, at that moment, didn't care who saw what. She was bleeding from nose and mouth and her eyes were starting to swell shut. She felt as if she had been set on fire and put out with a yard rake.

"Uncle Riley," she said, "it's me, Sunset. I been beat."

"Oh, Lord, chile, you sure have. I'm gonna get down and help you. Don't shoot at nothing now, you hear?"

Sunset staggered to one knee, tried to get up, couldn't.

Uncle Riley, who was six-four and forty-four, weighed two-twenty and had a slick bald head he covered with a droopy hat, climbed down from the wagon, took off his work shirt, kept his head turned as he walked toward her.

Uncle Riley put the shirt over Sunset's shoulders. She dropped the curtain and pulled the shirt shut and buttoned it with her free hand. All this from where she knelt on one knee. She tried again to get up, but couldn't. Uncle Riley lifted her into his arms easy as a child. She clung to the pistol as if it were a part of her hand.

He carried her to the wagon and set her on the seat, climbed up beside her. "Now I ain't touching on you, Miss Sunset."

"It's okay, Uncle Riley. You've been a real gentleman."

Tommy, who was standing beside the wagon with a fish stuck on the end of his pointed stick, had yet to close his mouth.

"Get on up here," Uncle Riley said.

Tommy climbed in the back of the wagon with the fish they had been collecting. They were scattered from one end of the wagon bed to the other, and in places they were ankle deep. Uncle Riley had seen the rain of fish as a bonus from God. Fish to eat, fish to salt and smoke for later. They had even gathered a few frogs because Tommy's mama, the midwife, Cary, liked frog legs.

Now Tommy wondered if the fish would keep because it was turning hot again and they were having to haul around this beat-up, big-tittied white woman. What in heaven's name were they going to do with her?

Tommy thought: Her hair is so long and red and wild it looks like tumbling fire. He smiled to himself. Good Lord, he had seen fish rain from the skies and he had seen a white woman's tits. It had been a special day.

"Miss Sunset, I haul you around like this, they gonna kill me," Uncle Riley said.

"Not with me with you they won't."

Sunset heard her mouth say the right things, but she felt as if it were all a dream. She scratched a place behind her ear with the barrel of the .38.

"Missy, they ain't gonna believe me. They ain't gonna believe you."

"They'll believe me."

"My cousin Jim, he just seen a white woman bending over in her yard, taking hanging clothes from a basket, and though there wasn't nothing to see cause she had her clothes on and he was up on the road, a white man seen him look at her, and for that, the word got around and them Kluxers took Jim out and castrated him, poured turpentine on thecuts."

"I tell you, it'll be okay."

"What's your husband, Mr. Pete, gonna say?"

"He ain't gonna say nothing, Uncle Riley. I blew his brains out."

"Oh, my goodness."

"Take me to my mother-in-law's."

"Sure you want to go to your mama-in-law's?" Uncle Riley said.

"My daughter's there. Ain't got nowhere else to go."

"Don't know Miss Marilyn gonna take kindly to you shooting her boy."

"I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. Oh, God, what is Karen going to think?"

"She surely loves her daddy."

"She does."

"They gonna castrate me and my boy."

"No, they're not. I'll see to it. For heaven's sake, Uncle Riley, I've known you all my life. Your wife helped deliver my baby."

"White folks forget them things when they want to. And with this Depression on, people just meaner anyhow."

The storm had come so fast and furious, it was hard to accept all the sunlight and heat, but already the fish in the back of the wagon were beginning to smell.

The leather harnesses creaked and the oat-and-hay-stoked bellies of the mules made strange gurgling and trumpeting sounds. From time to time the mules lifted their tails and farted or did their business, jerked their heads and snatched at greenery, and there was plenty of it, because the trail was narrow and the limbs of trees poked out over it, tempting the mules with their leaves.

The wagon squeaked and jostled along the muddy road and the steam from the mud drying rose up in thin wisps and there was a smell like pottery firing in a kiln. The sun burned and gnawed at Sunset's wounds and bruises.

"I feel like I'm gonna pass out," Sunset said.

"Don't do that, now, Miss Sunset. It bad enough you near naked riding along with a nigger, you don't need to have your head on my shoulder."

Sunset dipped her head and the feeling passed. When she sat back up and started to wipe her forehead with the back of her hand, she realized the gun was still in it.

"Maybe I ought to leave this with you?"

"No, ma'am. You don't want to leave that gun with me. Next thing I know, I'm the one done shot him."

"I'll explain."

"White folks find him dead, then see me, they gonna want a nigger anyhow. They see Mr. Pete's gun in my wagon, and him being a lawman and all, me and this boy be strung up faster than you can say, 'Let's get us a nigger.'"

"All right," Sunset said. "I thank you and Tommy, I truly do."

"Besides, you might need that gun when you tell Miss Marilyn what you done did. And you don't need it for her, you might need it for her husband, Mr. Jones."

"When I tell my daughter, I might want to use it on myself."

"Don't talk like that now."

"I can't believe I did it."

"He beat on you like that, Miss Sunset, he deserved killing. I ain't got no truck with a man beats on a woman. You done what you had to do."

"I could have just shot him in the leg or the foot, I guess."

"You done what you had to do." Uncle Riley studied her face. "Damn, Miss Sunset, ain't seen a beating that bad since he whupped up on Three-Fingered Jack. You remember that?"

"I do."

"Boy, he beat that man like he stole something."

"He did. My husband's girlfriend."

"Guess I ought not to have brought that up."

"He taught me how to shoot, Uncle Riley. Can you believe that? Taught me how to shoot a pistol, shotgun and rifle. Taught me until he thought maybe I was getting too good. After we married, he didn't want me to do nothing...I can't believe I shot him. I could have just got hit and he'd have got what he wanted and it'd been over. Wouldn't have been the first time. Karen would have a daddy. Thing is, though, he could have had what he wanted without all that, Uncle Riley. I'd have given in without all that. All he'd have to have done was talk sweet. But he liked it rough, even if he didn't have to. I think he was sweet to his girlfriends, but me, he beat."

"Don't talk to me about that, girl. I don't need to hear about it."

"He was bad enough about such, but when he drank, he was mean as a cottonmouth."

"Your hair sure is red," Tommy said.

"Damn, boy," Uncle Riley said. "Miss Sunset don't need you talking about her hair right now. Get on back there and sort them fish out or something."

"They all the same."

"Well, count them, boy."

"It's all right, Uncle Riley. Yeah, Tommy. It's red. My mama used to say red as sunset, so that's what people call me."

"That ain't your name?" Tommy asked.

"It is now. In the Bible they wrote Carrie Lynn Beck. But everyone called me Sunset. Got married I became Jones."

Sunset burst into tears.

"Go on back there now and sit down," Uncle Riley told Tommy.

"I didn't do nothing," Tommy said.

"Boy, you want your ass shined? Go back there."

Tommy moved back a ways, sat down amidst the fish. They were still damp and wet against his pants and he didn't like it, but he sat. He knew he had pushed about as far as he could push, and the next push the wagon would stop and he'd have his daddy's hand across the seat of his pants, or worse, he'd have to go break off his own switch for his daddy to use.
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Interviews & Essays

A conversation with Joe Lansdale

You've written more than a dozen books and won a heap of awards for mystery-writing. How does Sunset and Sawdust further the themes in your fiction?
I suppose there are themes in my fiction. Well, I know there are, and they are the engine that drives the story. Self-reliance, accepting responsibility for your actions, tolerance, and a rabid hatred of racism from any angle or group. I'm not fond of religious bullies either. Religion is up to the individual, but wielding it like a cutlass doesn't appeal to me. All of these things are in the majority of my books, and Sunset and Sawdust expresses most of them. I hope, of course, that it's a fun read, a good fast-paced crime book as well. I grew up on both pulp and literature, and I think the best novels are a marriage of these elements.

In a number of my books, there's a hint of folklore and "modern" mythology. I think we make our own mythologies as we live, and I think we give the past a kind of mythology. I tried to do that with Sunset and Sawdust. The aforementioned themes meet a historical novel meet folklore and myth and spit out a crime novel of sorts. There are some who would argue the novel is not a crime novel. And if they mean in the purely traditional manner it is not a crime novel, they're right.

Sunset and Sawdust features a female protagonist who takes over as the constable of a small town in East Texas. What inspired you to put this character, Sunset Jones, at the center of the story and to put the law in her hands?
Actually, there was a woman who became sheriff here in Nacogdoches in the thirties, and that stuck in my head. Ibelieve her husband died and she took over, but wanting the novel to have a bit more drama, I made Sunset's husband a not-so-good guy, and, of course, Sunset is responsible for his death.

You write vividly about the details and dynamics of East Texas during the Great Depression. Did you do extensive research before writing the novel, or have you learned about Depression-era Texas from family and neighbors who lived through it?
I did some research, but my father and mother grew up during the Great Depression. I grew up hearing all about it. I had many relatives who lived through the Depression. I soaked up all their stories. I also read a number of novels written during that era.

Also, we were poor when I was growing up, though probably no worse off than most around us, better off than many, so I'm not sure East Texas in the fifties was all that different. Well, it wasn't as bad as the Depression, but it was still a pretty simple way to live.

There are several unlikely alliances that develop between characters in the course of this novel--across lines of race and gender that were not usually crossed in this period. Do you find that small towns and hard times offer a writer more freedom?
I do find that small towns and hard times make for unlikely alliances. I saw it happen when I was growing up. And there are always people ahead of where the culture is. And there's this: if they don't make those alliances for themselves, I should.

Your novels are full of suspense as well as murder-and-mayhem action sequences. Do you chart the plots before you write?
I don't plot them or chart them. I usually have a character and an opening scene. Maybe I'll have a couple of scenes I want to see happen in my head, and the story occurs as I go. I like to be as surprised as the reader.

Does your martial arts training help keep your action sequences fresh?
The martial arts help in many ways. Mostly they help me focus and give me discipline and confidence. Those are things you have to keep to the fore when you you're on a long haul with a novel. And this one took a little longer than usual. I don't know why, but it did.

The characters in Sunset and Sawdust are often consumed by violence and sex, but you render their experiences in hilarious fashion. How did you learn to tell such a rollicking story?
I think you have to give these kind of things some humor--at least most of the time, if not all of the time. I also like humor in books, and I see a lot of life with humor. Not always at the moment, but in looking back. I think darkness and humor are really just two sides of a double-edge sword. Twain said something about humor being part of misery, that there was no humor in heaven.

Sunset Jones is one hell of a survivor. Will Sunset recur as a character in your forthcoming books?
It's possible. Believe me, I've thought about it. I find that characters I've written about turn up again now and then. In fact, McBride who appears in this novel, appeared in a novella I wrote a few years back called The Big Blow.

Have any of your stories or novels been adapted by filmmakers?
Numerous stories and books of mine have been optioned for film, as well as screenplays I've written. Only one story, a kind of cult movie, Bubba Hotep, has been filmed. It's done very well, in fact. Directed by Don Coscarelli, the film starred Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. It won a number of awards.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2014

    Day

    Watches the skys fire and laughs

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2014

    Scoure

    Looks curious nd follows

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2014

    Faye

    "You two have fun, I'm heading back."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Wow

    Another good one by a master story teller. Lansdale. Thanks for sharing your talent. This is one of books that when your done, your sad, because you know the next book you read probably won't stack up to it. Or the next. Unless it's another Lansdale. Yeah, he's that good.

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  • Posted June 25, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    REVIEWED: Sunset and Sawdust WRITTEN BY: Joe R. Lansdale PUBLISH

    REVIEWED: Sunset and Sawdust
    WRITTEN BY: Joe R. Lansdale
    PUBLISHED: January, 2005

    This is classic Lansdale: Well-written, gripping, and at times poignantly funny. Sunset Jones kills her abusive husband in self-defense in the middle of a cyclone. It’s really quite symbolic as not only her home and husband are gone, but her entire life is torn apart. From the very beginning, it’s a story of her reconstructing everything around her, including her own world views. Through the assistance of her wealthy mother-in-law, Sunset becomes Sheriff of the town, a small logging camp in the 1930’s depression. One of her first orders of business is to solve a brutal double murder that her late-husband (the former Sheriff) buried. The book effortlessly cuts across genres of mystery and thriller, horror, western and humor. Lansdale, as common for him, deals with race and gender issues and takes a progressive stance against commonly held clichés. Great read overall. The only complaint was that Lansdale built up such a pair of clever and creepy villains, but then rarely used them. He needs to write a prologue story stat, just about McBride and his half-brother, Two!

    Four out of Five stars

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  • Posted March 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Hunted it Down to Read it Again

    It has been six years since I first read this book. It's one of those things that was "lost in the divorce." AKA he threw a bunch of my stuff out. I've never been able to remember the title but the story has lingered in my brain all these years. A couple times a year a craving for it would begin and be dismissed because I had no title to put with the story. Until just yesterday...something about sawdust. And there it was and I can't tell you how excited I am to read this gritty, vintage crime novel again. Have you ever read a really good book, where the characters and emotions seeped into you and became part of your memories? This is one of those books and I am thrilled to get reacquainted. It has been far too long. ....One scene has always stuck in my mind, it involves rope, a bed, and a baseball bat. And one very angry wife.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 31, 2009

    page-turner

    Not the kind of book I usually pick but...loved it! The descriptions of landscape, scenes and characters were 3-d without wasting paragraphs and paragraphs. I expected a "beach-book" but it was much more. Great plot that unfolded perfectly. It kept me turning pages without getting bored and jumping ahead.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2004

    One of my 3 favorite reads of the year......

    Better served reading Harriet's review but this is one of the better books that came out during the 2004 year but its not surprising as Joe R. Lansdale is now in the ranks of our nations finest writers, this is just another well written gem.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2004

    A wacky wonderful tale

    In Depression Era East Texas, Constable Pete Jones assaults his wife Sunset before he rapes her. Badly abused and bruised, and in fear that he will one day kill her and beat the rap, Sunset takes Pete¿s gun and kills him. While she murders her spouse, a cyclone destroys most of their home. She is not charged with homicide not because she was protecting herself, but because no one liked the abuse of power pistol Pete.............................. After healing, Sunset is elected to complete Pete's term as constable though most doubt her capability to do the job. As she sets out to prove her worth, Sunset investigates the corpse of a baby that leads to a second dead body, crazy grasshoppers and Klansmen, and unethical oil dealers all leading to her beating the bushes questioning folks who seem more at home in a chainsaw massacre........................ The setting is typical Lansdale, which means East Texas. The cast is also typical Lansdale, which means eccentrics running loose outside the asylum.¿ The era is atypical Lansdale as he takes the audience back to the 1930s. The results is typical Lansdale, which means a wacky wonderful tale that seems just out of control yet somehow comes together to provide readers especially the author¿s fans with a fabulous crazed time................................. Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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