Review

A Fine Dark Line

by Joe R. Lansdale



The arrival of A FINE DARK LINE prompts a legitimate question
regarding its author, Joe R. Lansdale: is there anything this guy
can't do well? My first encounter with him was THE DRIVE IN, a
science fiction horror novel. This was followed by THE MAGIC WAGON
--- a gothic western if you will --- and COLD IN JULY, a mystery.
Then came the Batman-based CAPTURED BY THE ENGINES, TARZAN'S LOST
ADVENTURE, the Jonah Hex comic book story arcs, and on and on and
on...and they are all great. So with A FINE DARK LINE, we have a
coming of age novel set in rural Texas in the 1950s, a time both
better and worse than our own and inexorably linked to it. And,
like all his other works that have preceded it, A FINE DARK LINE is
his finest work to date.

A FINE DARK LINE is told through the eyes of Stanley Mitchell, a
thirteen year-old boy standing on the summer cusp of adolescence,
the younger of two children in a family that isn't poverty-stricken
but not exactly next door neighbors to Scrooge McDuck, either. No,
the Mitchells are the owners and proprietors of the only drive-in
theater in Dewmont, Texas. Stanley's youth and innocence are
consumed in a slow-burning maelstrom sparked by his discovery of a
tin box containing a collection of troubled love letters that
ultimately lead him to a burned out house, the mysterious deaths of
two young women and secrets that the powers that be in Dewmont
would prefer to stay buried. Stanley's unlikely ally is Buster
Smith, the projectionist at the theater, an elderly black man whose
attempts to drown his demons in alcohol are doomed to failure but
who has a depth that only Stanley is aware of. In attempting to
solve the mysteries of the deaths of the two women, Stanley exposes
not only himself, but also his family and friends, to danger. A
FINE DARK LINE, however, is more than a mystery story. It is,
ultimately, the tale of a time not so long gone but vanished
completely nonetheless. Lansdale uses the mystery as a vehicle to
explore the cultural landscape, race relations and sexual mores of
the 1950s. What is most remarkable here is that Lansdale is able to
capture so perfectly the voice of a 13 year-old boy in that era. I
suspect that, to at least some extent, it is his own, some 50 years
removed. If so, it resonates within him pitch-perfectly and his
translation is unerring.

With A FINE DARK LINE, Lansdale continues to expand the breadth and
scope of his literary vision. One could easily come to the
conclusion that his talent and landscape know no boundaries. He is
a writer who has exceeded the promise of his earliest work and the
expectations of his readers --- and will undoubtedly continue to do
so.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

A Fine Dark Line
by Joe R. Lansdale

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press
  • ISBN-10: 0892967293
  • ISBN-13: 9780892967292