By Joe R. Lansdale (Dark Regions Press; 2013)
This blistering novella by the incomparable Joe Lansdale is something of a companion-piece to his 1989 psycho-noir masterpiece COLD IN JULY (note the similarities in the titles), and hence a return to the type of neo-pulp I was nearly convinced Lansdale no longer wrote. This isn’t to say that more stately Lansdale novels like SAWDUST AND SUNSET and A FINE DARK LINE don’t have their place, mind you, but it’s good to see the man back in rough-and-tumble form.
The set-up is simple enough, involving Tom Chan, an East Texas based Afghanistan veteran who one December night witnesses a neighbor killed outside his house by a hit and run driver. Tom tells police of what he saw and identifies a photo of the driver, who it turns out is Will Anthony, the son of a local mob boss. This means Tom can expect a reprisal if he testifies in court, a suspicion that’s confirmed when Anthony and his goons make an unannounced visit to Tom’s home the following night, informing him in no uncertain terms that there will be deadly consequences for Tom, his wife Kelly and young daughter should he choose to testify.
Things grow especially twisty around this point, with Tom determined to take down Will Anthony despite the threats. He gets in touch with Carson, a fellow veteran turned mercenary who works with Booger, a terminal sociopath. This complicates the situation considerably. So does the fact that at least one of the cops Tom spoke with is on the Anthonys’ payroll.
The stage is set for a bloody and intense confrontation, and Lansdale, you can be sure, doesn’t skimp on the nasty details (i.e. a shooting victim “leaking blood like oil from a busted transmission”). Nor has his famously rich, darkly comedic prose–in quintessentially Lansdale-esque lines like “I was between a board and a nail, and the hammer was cocked and ready to strike”–lost any of its bite. The 104 page HOT IN DECEMBER is also among Lansdale’s most concise works, boasting a robust no-frills narrative with nary an ounce of padding. This, in short, is pulp as it should be written: fast and lean, with a staunchly moral center and a profoundly mean streak.