My Opinion on Two Texas Novels

So I got a great review for my new novel, Burrows, from Publishers Weekly.  It was a Starred Review, and a great coup.  My favorite part, other than that they liked the second book in the Red River series, is that it mentions two of my favorite authors.

“Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole (2011)… combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.”
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

Very cool.

Those who’ve followed this sputtering blog have noticed how it wanderer occasionally into newspaper columns, rants, and magazine articles. I think I’d like to talk about books even more, even though I should be working on my newest manuscript, or reading. Books have such a hold on readers, that we live and breathe the printed page.

When I read the PW review above, I was surprised to see a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird. I can think of no greater honor. Then upon reflection I realized Burrows is plunked down between down between Harper Lee and one of my all-time favorite writers, Joe R. Lansdale.

Lansdale’s ring so true to the ear of Texans, that we figure we’re probably related to some of his characters.  Joe lives in an interesting world of nostalgic recollections, humor, darkness, and cruelty, with a good helping of downright bizarre.

They call that Life.

His 2000 release of the novel, The Bottoms, was a rough-hewn look into life behind what we in the Lone Star State affectionately call The Pine Curtain.

This Texas Gothic takes place along the thick jungle of the Sabine River during the Great Depression. Young Harry Crane discovers the body of a black prostitute, bound with barbed wire, and mutilated. His father, Constable Harry Crane, seems to be the only law enforcement officer in the country who is interested in finding the murderer. The novel is well plotted, fast, vibrant, and is so true to life I felt I’ve heard those same people talking up at the store where the farmers I knew in my youth spit, whittled, and loafed.

I thought The Bottoms would be Joe’s high-water mark, though I dearly love his Hap Collins/Leonard Pine series listed below. Then just the other day he came out with Edge of Dark Water, and all earlier bets were off.  In my estimation, Edge should be in the running for the Pulitzer.

It’s that good.

Joe returns to the Depression with an expertly woven novel that makes your skin crawl. It is a true look at how tough it was to survive in east Texas during those days. The characters are authentic, the dialogue is real, and the voice is perfect.

Sue Ellen is just trying to survive childhood during the Depression.  When her best friend who dreams of becoming a Hollywood star is dredged up from the bottom of the Sabine River, Sue Ellen and her friends find themselves on a journey that could have been written by Homer. You just thought The Odyssey was the ultimate journey. Here on the Sabine, there be monsters, and Lansdale brings them to life in startling detail.

This one is a classic.

If you haven’t discovered Joe R. Lansdale, try either of these books. If you’re interested in something darkly humorous, jump into Bad Chili, Mucho Mojo, The Two-Bear Mambo, or Rumble Tumble. Just the names should make you read these books. None will disappoint.



About reaviszwortham

Reavis Z. Wortham is the author of The Red River Mysteries from Poisoned Pen Press, and the Sonny Hawke thrillers from Kensington Publishing. Book 7 in the Red River series, Gold Dust releases September 4, 2018. Book 2 in the Hawke series, Hawke's War, releases May 29, 2018. The Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game magazine, he's also a columnist for a number of newspapers and is a frequent contributor for magazines. For more fun, visit his web page at for photos, appearances, reviews, and a little look back into history with a glossary of east Texas words used in both books. Happy Perusing.
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