From the Publisher
"Sad, grotesque, hilarious, breathtaking...stands with ease among the work of such stylistic predecessors as Twain, Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard. One thing that gives “The Marauders” its own clear hallmark is its quicksilver prose. The book’s other standout aspect is how it demands and earns sympathy for all but its most evil characters and for the fate-blasted but nature-blessed locale they inhabit. You might not want to retire there, but you’ll savor this visit." - The Wall Street Journal
"Excellent, finely written and funny – an admirable novel from a very promising writer." - USA Today
“It’s always the voice, the singular sound of a place like none other, that draws you into a regional mystery. In Tom Cooper’s first novel, The Marauders, that beguiling music comes out of the Louisiana bayous, where a raucous chorus of shrimp fishermen, marijuana growers, treasure hunters, professional crooks and common thieves fight to be heard…It hurts to laugh at the preposterous get-rich-quick schemes of these swamp denizens, but laugh we must, if only to find some relief from the grim realism of Cooper’s portrait of life in these coastal communities.” – The New York Times Book Review
"The first great book of the 2015 beach season is already here...Tom Cooper’s début novel, “The Marauders,” certainly should not be confined to beach season or to the implication that it’s light or airless good fun, but it seems to be a book that should be savored on a deck overlooking the beach or pool with a cold beer nearby,,,an enjoyable and impossibly difficult to put down novel.” - Free Lance Star Review
“Tom Cooper has Louisiana dead to rights. Every aspect. Jeanette, the sleepy bayou town ravaged by man and nature alike, is rendered in Technicolor detail. Its residents, lifers and visitors alike, leap from the pages. The story rolls like a tide, handling triumph and tragedy alike with a dark, mischievous humor that Cooper wields expertly…There’s more than a hint of the Southern gothic here, more than a little Flannery O’Connor…It’s easy to forget this is his first novel. Some books require boxes of tissues. This one requires an, as Cooper writes, “an ass-pocket whiskey bottle.” Get you a drink and get comfortable. You won’t be moving until you hit the last page.” - The Advocate
"A debut novel that does nothing in half measures. It isn’t afraid to take risks, dabble in darkness and skirt the edge of ruin, and this is what makes it such an exciting read…The Marauders takes readers on a rollicking adventure deep into the heart of Louisiana’s marshes as well as some of the darkest corners of the human psyche…The plot is brisk, the characters are captivating and the writing is lush and striking. Cooper’s writing is the kind a reader can happily get lost in, and his depictions of the Deep South are so evocative that if he ever gets tired of fiction, he might give travel writing a try. But The Marauders is such an impressive offering from an audacious new voice in fiction that one can only hope it is but the first of many. As far as bibliophilic treasure hunts go, this one is literary gold.” - Bookpage
Cooper’s intricate, accessible weaving of his characters with each other, and his deep, delightfully eccentric descriptions of this area of Louisiana show that he’s just beginning what will hopefully be a satisfying career as a novelist - Bookbrowse
"The Marauders is so damned good you won't believe it's a first novel…and by the time you reach page 20, you won't care. It's rollicking, angry, eye-popping, and fall-on-the-floor funny, sometimes in the course of a single scene. The cast is winning, the post-Katrina bayou setting is richly evoked, the dialogue crackles, and the story rolls on a wave of invention. It's a little Elmore Leonard, a little Charles Portis, and very much its own uniquely American self. Basically, Tom Cooper has written one hell of a novel." - Stephen King
"More fun than a book about the aftermath of an ecological disaster has any right to be" - Esquire
"Wade into moral muck with the pill-popping, treasure-hunting, one-armed hero of this finger-lickin'-good Louisiana swamp noir." - O, The Oprah Magazine
"A sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking "swamp noir" gumbo with echoes of John Kennedy Toole, Larry Brown and Daniel Woodrell…The Marauders is as grounded in the simple truth as it is awash in the outlandishly eccentric." - Shelf Awareness
"I can't wait for Cooper's next book. Nor can my wife, and she and I seldom agree about novels. He's fun to readhe keeps your head up and your eyes big." - Garden and Gun
"Self-assured and highly entertaining...Cooper’s writing is taut, his story is gripping, and the characters and their problems will stay with you long after you finish this book." - Library Journal, *Starred* Review
“This is one hell of a debut novel. Cooper combines the rough-hewn but poetic style favored by writers like Charles Willeford with the kinds of miscreants so beloved by Elmore Leonard, all operating in the tumultuous modern-day disaster that is New Orleans.. With crisp, noir-inspired writing and a firmly believable setting, Cooper has written an engaging homage to classic crime writing that still finds things to say about the desperate days we live through now. Somewhere, Donald E. Westlake, John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard are smiling down on this nasty, funny piece of work.” —Kirkus Reviews, *Starred* Review
“Cooper offers a believable portrait of a bayou town and a cast of deeply engaging characters wrestling inchoately with the likely extinction of the only life they know. There is real substance and humanity in this fine debut novel.”—Booklist, *Starred* Review
“Cooper’s novel is a blast; descriptions of the natural beauty of the cypress swamps and waterways, along with the hardscrabble ways of its singular inhabitants, further elevate this story.” - Publisher's Weekly
"Tom Cooper expertly maps a Gulf Coast of miscreants, romantics, and a severely beleaguered nature, digging at the old, weird south with his own enthralling voice. 'Marauders' is propelled by wonderful characters depicted with grace, humanity, and that rarest of talents: a truly hilarious wit. Mr. Cooper joins such talents as Twain, Portis, and O'Toole in mining the humor of the Southern freak show to deliver the universal news of the human heart." Nic Pizzolatto, author of Galveston and creator of HBO's 'True Detective'
"This is rare for me, very rare, that I was utterly unable, because of a novel, to get up from a chair and answer the phone when it rang or eat when I was hungry or go to bed when I was weary. Rare, but this book has left me hungry and sleepy and neglectful of somebody I hope will call back. That his book is smart and funny and dazzling in its prose is obvious. He also can tell a hell of a story. Tom Cooper is a newly-minted American literary treasure." - Robert Olen Butler
The Marauders, Tom Cooper's beautifully-written chronicle of the misadventures of the denizens of a dying Louisiana fishing village, pleases in so many ways. It's funny, sad, and wise, sometimes in the same sentence. An outstanding debut.
Richard Lange Author of Angel Baby, This Wicked World
“The very best fiction transports us effortlessly to places we've never been and involves us deeply with characters we've never met; and though I've never lived in the Louisiana bayous, or shrimped all day with one arm in oil-polluted waters, or obsessed over a dead pirate's treasure while chewing up painkillers like candy, or been hunted by anyone as sadistic as the Toup brothers, Tom Cooper's brilliant, fast-paced first novel, The Marauders, took me there, set me right down in the miserable heat and the mud and the dread, and, though it might sound strange to say, I will be forever grateful to him for that. “ – Donald Ray Pollock, author of Knockemstiff and the Devil all the Time
“The Marauders is a novel so compelling, so unsettling, so scary and hilarious that you won’t be able to put it down. You might as well pour yourself a drink and settle into your comfy chair. Set in Louisiana’s Barataria swamp after the ecological disaster that was the BP oil spill, the novel chronicles the end of a way of life for Gulf shrimpers and explores a muddy world of greed, grit, and gumbo. Tom Cooper is an eloquent new voice in the extraordinary world of Southern fiction. And, trust me on this, the spectral and relentless Toup brothers will haunt your dreams.” - John Dufresne, bestselling author of Louisiana Power & Light
“Tom Cooper has written a first novel with sustained, top-drawer prose, and that is a beautiful and uncommon thing.” – Pete Dexter, national book award-winning author of Paris Trout
School Library Journal
Seventeen-year-old Wes Trench is working on a shrimp boat with his father, but as the shrimp get skinnier and grayer, his father gets angrier and meaner. Life was already grueling enough in the marshy expanse of land and bay known as the Barataria, just south of New Orleans. But the one-two punch of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill has desperate residents settling their losses for a check of $1,500 from BP, a sum that will barely last three months. When Wes quits working with his father, he discovers that shrimping is all he knows and that anyone still trying to eke out a living that way is clearly insane. Wes is but one of the narrators in Cooper's evocative novel, which features an extravagant range of viewpoints, such as the nefarious, marijuana-growing Toup twins; Lindquist, a one-armed, pill-popping raconteur with an endless supply of crude knock-knock jokes; ne'er-do-well Cosgrove with his bandy partner in crime, Hanson; and Grimes, a Baratarian native pushing settlements for BP. All are marauders, plundering the land and sea for gold, illegal crops, or dying sea life. Just as there is beauty in the harsh surroundings, there is goodness, even in this ragtag cast of characters. Cooper's exposition is lush with description without swerving from his narrators' points of view. VERDICT Teens who like the oddball characters and environmental consciousness of Carl Hiaasen novels will also enjoy Cooper's debut.—Diane Colson, Nashville Public Library, TN
Read an Excerpt
THE TOUP BROTHERS
They came like specters from the dark maw of the bayou, first ghostly light in the fog, then the rasp of a motor: an aluminum powerboat scudding across lacquer-black water. From a distance the figures looked conjoined, Siamese twins. As the boat drew closer the bodies split in two under the moth-flocked floodlights. One stood fore, the other aft: the twin brothers Reginald and Victor Toup. When they were kids even their mother had trouble telling them apart. That was long ago, half their lives, and now their mother was dead. Shot through the temple in New Orleans's Roosevelt Hotel before their father turned the gun on himself.
Tonight they motored under a three-quarter moon, thirty pounds of marijuana hidden under a tarp in the bait well. Reginald trolled the boat and Victor crouched on the prow, surveying the bayou through night-vision binoculars. They'd made this run so many times they could tell you things about the swamp that no map could. You rarely came across anyone out here. Not after dark, not this far, not outside shrimping season.
This of course was the point.
A flicker of motion ahead drew Victor's eye. On an islet a half mile distant a small light bobbed and shimmied like fox fire before sputtering out.
Victor held up his hand and Reginald cut the engine and lights. They were plunged into dark, moonlight banded across the water, the only sounds the insects and frogs singing in full chorus, the soft slap of waves against the hull.
"What?" Reginald asked.
Victor said nothing. He peered through the glass and waited. Reginald stepped behind him, black rubber hip boots creaking. Side by side, the brothers' resemblance was uncanny. The same side-parted black hair and hard-bitten faces, the same mineral-gray eyes full of cunning. The same way of leaning slightly into the night, torsos angled stiff, like bloodhounds scenting a rumor of prey. But there were differences, slight. Reginald had the beginnings of a gumbo paunch but Victor did not. Reginald had no tattoos, but Victor had them on his arms and on the side of his neck: the head of a gape-mouthed Great White shark, a mermaid and trident, a spiderweb in the crook of his right arm, a black widow spider in the middle.
Any other differences between the twins a man would have to delve deeper than the surface to discern.
For a time nothing moved. Stars were strewn horizon to horizon, bands so tangled and thick they looked like white paint flung on a black canvas. Ursa Minor and Cassiopeia and Orion like puzzles you had to make out.
Victor shifted on his boots and adjusted the focus of the binoculars. The light winked on again, skeltering among the trees.
"Thinks we left," Victor said.
"Who?" Reginald asked.
Victor didn't answer, only watched. Anchored a hundred yards from the islet was a ramshackle shrimp boat, on the islet shore a beached pirogue and a Coleman lantern dimly glowing. A man in hip boots waded in the bracken, sweeping a metal detector coil over the ground. In his other hand was something that looked half scoop, half shovel.
The man heard something in his headphones and halted. He passed the metal detector coil a few times over the same spot and then dug for a minute with the shovel-scoop. He stepped to the shore edge and shimmied the shovel in the water and hunkered down, sifting through the dirt like a gold panner.
Victor lowered the binoculars and shook his head.
"Tell me," Reginald said.
"A guy," Victor said. "Digging holes."
"Fuck should I know? Burying his wife."
Reginald took the binoculars from Victor and squinted through the glass. "Got a metal detector," he said.
"Know him?" Victor asked.
"I've seen him. I think."
"Metal detector," Victor said. He shot a scoffing breath through his nose. "I've seen it all."
"What's he, with the oil company?"
Victor didn't answer. He unshouldered his semiautomatic Bushmaster and got the man's face in the crosshairs of the reticle scope. He looked in his late forties, early fifties. Deeply pocketed eyes, shaggy hair winged out from beneath a yacht cap. And look, he was missing an arm, in its place a prosthesis.
"Missing an arm," Victor said.
"I know who that is," Reginald said.
Victor asked who.
"The redhead? Crazy big tits. Got stoned at our place a couple times. Renee?"
"Reagan," Victor said. "Oh, yeah."
"Reagan. That's her daddy."
Victor lifted the rifle again and squinted through the scope, his finger resting in the curve of the trigger.
"The hell you doing?" Reginald said. He'd always been the more diplomatic of the two, Victor the more hotheaded. Maybe it was because Victor was the firstborn, the alpha, a full hour longer in the world than Reginald. This was one of Reginald's theories, anyway.
"Too close for his own good," Victor told Reginald.
"We'll talk to him."
Victor could squeeze the trigger right now and the man's life would be over in an instant. He'd done it before. Out here. But he lowered the rifle and said, "Luckiest day in his life, son-bitch doesn't even know it."
His arm was missing. Lindquist was positive he'd left it in his pickup two hours before. He wasn't in the habit of misplacing his thirty-thousand-dollar myoelectric arm or of leaving his truck unlocked, catchwater bayou town where everybody knew everyone or not.
A few other pickups sat under the bug-flurried sodium vapors. Nothing else but cypress lisping in the night breeze, a bottlefly-green Buick bouncing on the blacktop past Sully's bar. But Lindquist kept looking wild-eyed around the oyster-shell parking lot as if his arm had wandered off on its own volition. As if he might find it standing next to the blue-lit tavern sign, thumbing a ride.
Lindquist went back into Sully's. Sully was wiping the bar with a hand towel and peered over the top of his wire-frame glasses. At one of the back tables three men were gathering cards and poker chips, and they looked up too.
Lindquist stood in the doorway, lips pressed in a thin pale line, some dark emotion building behind his face like a storm front. "Somebody took my arm," he said.
"Took?" Sully said.
"Stole," Lindquist said. "Somebody stole my fuckin' arm."
A stymied silence fell over the room, for a moment the only sound the jukebox: a Merle Haggard song, "I Wonder If They Ever Think of Me," playing faintly. The men glanced at one another and shook their heads. Finally one of them, Dixon, began to laugh. Then Prejean and LaGarde, the two other men at the table. Their teeth flashed white in their sun-ruddied faces and soon the narrow pine-planked room filled with their laughter.
"Screw you guys," Lindquist said.
The laughter stopped as quickly as a needle lifting off a record.
"You joking?" Dixon asked.
Lindquist joked a lot, so it was hard to tell.
"Probably left it at home," Sully said.
"Like hell," Lindquist said.
"Call Gwen," LaGarde said. "See if you left it at home."
Lindquist stared stiff-jawed at LaGarde. LaGarde put his hands on the tabletop and looked down. Gwen was gone, had been for months. Most likely she was at her parents' house in Houma, where she usually fled when she and Lindquist were arguing. She always returned after a few days, but not this time. The men didn't know the full story, but the gist was probably the same. A quarrel about money, about bills, about their daughter, about God knew what.
Sully stepped from behind the bar and the men got up from the table. They searched under stools and chairs, kicked open bathroom stalls. Then they went outside and canvassed the lot. Lindquist stooped and peered under the trucks. Dixon went to the edge of the lot and passed his boot back and forth through the sedge. Prejean did the same on the other side. LaGarde walked out to the blacktop and looked in both directions.
Afterward the men stood under the sodium lights, batting mosquitoes from their faces.
"Why didn't you just wear it?" Dixon asked Lindquist.
"You wear it in this heat," Lindquist said.
Twenty minutes later the sheriff arrived. Villanova. He picked up his khaki cowboy hat off the passenger seat, got out of the cruiser, sat the hat on top of his mastiff head.
The men stared, faces malefic in the red and blue bar-light.
Lindquist told Villanova about the poker game, about how his arm was missing when he returned to his truck. Villanova fished a small spiral notebook out of his shirt pocket and scribbled down the names of the men who'd left earlier. Lindquist insisted whoever took his arm had to be a stranger. A lowlife drifter so drug-addled and devoid of moral compass he'd steal a prosthetic arm from someone's truck.
"And you're sure you didn't leave it home," Villanova said.
Lindquist narrowed his eyes. "You leave your arms at home?"
Your thirty-thousand-dollar arm, he wanted to say. Without his wife's insurance from her job at the bank, Lindquist could have never afforded the prosthetic or the months of physical therapy after his accident. And even with Gwen's insurance, Lindquist had to pay fifteen grand out of pocket, money he put on a high-interest credit card he paid only the minimum on every month. A debt he'd take to his grave, but he couldn't exactly shrimp with a five-dollar hook arm from Kmart.
Villanova wrote something down. "You have the serial number?"
"The serial number?"
Villanova pinched the bridge of his nose. "The serial number for the arm, Lindquist."
Lindquist shook his head.
"Well, you can always call the doctor. Call wherever you got it. That might make sense."
The men scattered their separate ways, Dixon and Sully back into the bar, LaGarde and Prejean off to their trucks. Lindquist stood beside his truck door, jangling through a wad of keys. A full minute passed before he found the right one. Then for another half minute Lindquist jabbed the key around the lock, scraping metal. Finally he scrunched one eye closed and slipped the key inside.
Villanova watched from across the lot. "What you doing?" he asked.
"Like hell. You're drunk."
Lindquist squinted at Villanova, head listing as if to music only he could hear. "Just a little," he said.
"It's late, Lindquist. Get in the car."
For a time the men were silent as Villanova drove along the trafficless two-way. They passed a palmetto grove, a field of saw grass. A nighthawk winged across the moon, its silhouette like an emblem on a coin.
"Knock knock," Lindquist said.
"Still at it with your jokes, Lindquist."
"Loses an arm and tells knock-knock jokes."
"Anita big ol' pair of titties in front of me."
Villanova shook his head. The police radio popped and hissed with static.
"So you all were playing poker," Villanova said.
"What you think?"
Villanova kept both hands tight on the wheel, both eyes on the road.
"It's late, Lindquist."
Villanova didn't need to ask him for directions because he knew the way. He'd driven Lindquist home from the bar a few times because he was too wrecked to drive himself.
"You worried about the oil?" Villanova asked.
Lindquist said he was. Everybody in Jeanette was. Hell, folks were in a shithouse panic.
"Could be better than they're saying," Villanova said. "But I got a feeling it might be worse."
Soon Villanova bumped onto a gravel driveway that cut through wild privet to a brick ranch house with a gray-shake roof and satellite dish. A birdbath, its basin filled with scummy water and leaves, stood in a dead flowerbed.
Awkwardly, Lindquist reached his left arm across his lap and opened the door.
"You okay, Lindquist?" Villanova asked.
Lindquist stooped and looked into the car. "Yeah. You?"
"Yeah. Favor? No crusades just yet."
"Got your keys?"
"Check for me."
Lindquist took his keys out of his jeans pocket, jangled them, gave Villanova a thumbs-up.
"Still know how to use them?"
"So long, Villanova," Lindquist said. He shut the door and stepped aside as Villanova turned the car around. He watched the taillights jitter like fireflies down the driveway, one pair and then two and then one again when he squinted an eye.
Lindquist opened the front door, flicked on the light, sniffed. A sweet-sour stink, of rancid bacon grease and chicken fat, wafted from the kitchen. And the den was littered with grease-mottled takeout bags, empty beer cans, month-old newspapers still in their cellophane bags. Lindquist wondered what his daughter, Reagan, would think if she dropped by for a visit, what his wife would think if she came back.
Like that was going to happen.
He moved to pick up one of the bags but his arm wasn't there. He went to the kitchen and got an Abita out of the refrigerator and then he sat at the cluttered dining room table. Bills, all months overdue. Mortgage, credit cards, diesel, insurance. And books stacked four and five high: The Story of the American Merchant Marine. The Pirates Lafitte. The Journal of Jean Lafitte. The Pirate Lafitte and the Battle of New Orleans. Biogeochemistry of the Wetlands: Science and Applications.
Among the books were time-yellowed maritime maps as stiff as parchment, marked with red felt-tip pen in Lindquist's hieroglyphic hand. A metal detector lay across the table with its circuitry box open and its wiring sticking out. Gwen used to bitch when he left these things on the table, but now he could keep them where he goddamn well pleased.
Lindquist leaned on one ass cheek and took out a Pez dispenser from his pants pocket and flicked the head. Donald Duck spat out an oblong white pill: Oxycontin, whittled by Lindquist with a pocketknife so it fit perfectly into the dispenser. With the bottom of his Abita bottle he pummeled the pill on the dining room table until it was crushed to dust. Then he plugged a nostril with his forefinger and leaned over and snorted the powder, tipping his head back and rubbing the dust off his upper lip.
Lindquist unfolded one of the maps over the table, a fraying map in hachured black and blue ink of the Barataria, its serpentine waterways and archipelagos of barrier islands. Over time Lindquist had made his own adjustments to the cartography, crossed out cheniers succumbed to time and tempest, drawn new islands and hummocks sprung up overnight. One was shaped like a tadpole, another like a paw track, another like an Egyptian udjat. Over some of the islands he'd drawn X's, over others question marks.
He uncapped a purple felt-tip pen with his teeth, studying the map, marking over one of the islands. He reached for his beer, but his right arm still wasn't there. He dropped the pen and clutched the bottle, thinking of the last thing Gwen had told him before she left.
You're in a bad place, she'd said. You need help.