One of the best books of 2014 was a book first published the year before. A cross between a crime novel and an old-fashioned western, “The Thicket” by award-winning East Texas author Joe R. Lansdale made many “best of” lists for both years.

 

“I didn’t suspect the day grandfather came out and got me and my sister, Lula, and hauled us off toward the ferry that I’d soon end up with worse things happening than had already come upon us or that I’d take up with a gun-shooting dwarf, the son of a slave, and a big angry hog, let alone find true love and kill someone, but that’s exactly how it was.”

A coming-of-age story of a teenager forced to grow up by horrendous circumstances, it will remind you of Charles Portis’ “True Grit” or something by Cormac McCarthy or Larry McMurtry mixed with an equal portion of plot and dialogue from the movie-making Coen brothers.

Set in turn-of-the-century East Texas, it involves a chase after a lawless gang by bounty hunters into a wild “no-man’s-land” called The Thicket. The gang killed Jack Parker’s grandfather, kidnapped his kid sister and left him for dead. After finding that they had also killed the local lawman, Jack, pressed for time, uses his inheritance to hire a couple of local bounty hunters to join him in a rescue attempt.

They make a curious team: Eustace, part black, part white, part Indian, with a face “as smooth as silk and as dark as long-boiled coffee,” who carries a shotgun that “can cut down a field of hay,” and Shorty, an educated dwarf who had been an army scout and learned to shoot from Annie Oakley. Neither is to be trifled with.

Despite building a collection of odd characters and circumstances along the way, Lansdale keeps the fast-paced action focused, believable and liberally laced with a passel of his patented dark humor in this winning adult adventure.

 

Tim O’Connell lives in Ponte Vedra.