Jack Parker thought he’d already seen his fair share of tragedy. His grandmother was killed in a farm accident when he was barely five years old. His parents have just succumbed to the smallpox epidemic sweeping turn-of-the-century East Texas—orphaning him and his younger sister, Lula.
Then catastrophe strikes on the way to their uncle’s farm, when a traveling group of bank-robbing bandits murder Jack’s grandfather and kidnap his sister. With no elders left for miles, Jack must grow up fast and enlist a band of heroes the likes of which has never been seen if his sister stands any chance at survival. But the best he can come up with is a charismatic, bounty-hunting dwarf named Shorty, a grave-digging son of an ex-slave named Eustace, and a street-smart woman-for-hire named Jimmie Sue who’s come into some very intimate knowledge about the bandits (and a few members of Jack’s extended family to boot).
Joe Lansdale’s THE THICKET is wickedly smart, funny, vulgar, violent, philosophical and yes, even at times, a little whimsical. All in part due to the wonderful, quirky cast of characters and, of course, Lansdale’s own voluble prose. Prose prickling with acute observations, jibes, laconic wit, and snappy dialogue that reflect the era and characters, perfectly.
Lansdale also manages to sketch out an opening scene that’s akin to free-crack to a drug-addict: irresistible. I mean, come on, our young hero’s life is turned up side down and sideways within a heartbeat, and who does he end up going on a quest with? A philosophical-spouting dwarf (and circus escapee) who knows how to pistol-whip, a black ex-slave who has a perchance for digging up the dead when he’s not paid, and a wild boar who’s taken a liking to him. Throw in a love-interest for Jack who persuades him to help her escape the brothel were she works, and you have a recipe for explosive action, humorous antics, and a fast-paced plot that delivers right up to the end.
Each character in The Thicket is finely detailed with their own distinct quirks and failings that add layers of depth to this story of rescue and redemption. Each is taking up Jack’s quest for their own personal reasons, and all looking to leave their pasts behind them, with a hope they can find a better future. Lansdale doesn’t hold back on the gritty details, so much so, you can almost taste and smell the grit, grim, and rot. But he also tempers the pervading darkness with plenty of snarky humour and lighter moments.
It takes a great deal of skill as an author to find just the right balance in what could have been a dark, brooding story, but Lansdale pulls it off with remarkable aplomb.
The Thicket is a riveting, funny droll read, with a cast of characters you’ll be rooting for, I know I was.
Joe R. Lansdale
Mulholland Books, 2014
Paperback, 352 pages
Historical | Western