The Bard of East Texas is back, this time with the turn-of-the-twentieth-century coming-of-age tale of 16-year-old Jack Parker and his 14-year-old sister, Lula. Still shocked by the sudden deaths of their parents from smallpox, they see their grandfather murdered by outlaws, who then abduct Lula. The same outlaws have killed the sheriff Jack hopes will rescue Lula, and Jack must turn to bounty hunters Eustace Cox and Shorty. Eustace is a black man who carries a giant shotgun; his constant companion is a 600-pound feral hog. Shorty is a dwarf with an attitude who was taught to shoot by Annie Oakley.
Their bond is the discrimination they face, and they are willing to chase the outlaws into the primordial and lawless deep woods of East Texas’ Big Thicket. Lansdale’s premise seems borrowed in part from Charles Portis’ True Grit. But anyone who knows Lansdale knows he will put his own spin on the material. He has been writing brilliantly about East Texas for three decades (in both historical fiction and his contemporary series starring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine), but never has the region appeared stranger or more violent than it does here. The oil boom has begun, and Jack, a naive and pious farm boy, is introduced to boomtowns, brothels, lynchings, and all manner of new things. Memorable characters, a vivid sense of place, and an impressive body count make The Thicket another Lansdale treasure. –review by Thomas Gaughan