A small town tale of infidelity, blackmail, and skinning people alive. For fans of Twin Peaks and His Girl Friday.
I did it. I popped my Lansdale cherry. I know a people or three that love them some Lansdale, but I had never experienced the man for myself. Unless you count the film Bubba Ho-Tep, which was based on his short story, but that was more like letting Lansdale feel me up in the back of a car. There was also that stage production of By Bizarre Hands, which I saw in a small Long Island playhouse with the man himself in attendance, but I’d consider that third base at the most. Other than that, I swear, I’ve never done this before. This is my first time.
Leather Maiden is yet another tale of a small town with dark secrets. Fresh off a tour of duty in Iraq and recently dumped by the woman he loves, Cason Statler returns home to take another shot at life. When he is not stalking his ex or drinking himself into a stupor, he reconnects with the town he grew up in. He takes a job at a local paper and before you can say something colloquial ala let sleeping dogs lie, he is up to his neck in other people’s shit. Infidelity leads to blackmail leads to murder leads to skinning people alive. And that is just the tip of the proverbial dung heap.
I have to admit, I was wary going in. One man’s cult reverence is another man’s disdain. My expectations weren’t low, but they weren’t especially high, either. End result is I was surprised, and pleasantly. Lansdale goes down smooth. There are some that might argue that anything truly worthwhile requires effort, that you have to work for it. That may be true, but let’s not forget- all work and no play makes Jack want to slaughter his wife and child. There is a reason they call it work. If you have to work to enjoy something, it’s not really that enjoyable, now is it? Unless, of course, you happen to like your job, in which case this whole analogy is shot to hell.
Initially, I was getting a bit of a Twin Peaks vibe off of Leather Maiden. Not because it is particularly Lynchian in tone, but because of the whole missing girl with dark secrets angle. If Lansdale is participating in any sort of Lynch worship, he does right to leave most of his baggage at the setup. The man’s got his own style, which owes more to the witty repartee of His Girl Friday than to the small town quirkiness of Peaks. He’s great with characters, both likeable and un, and everybody knows good characters are like crack to the avid reader.
The story itself is lean and clips along at a show pony’s pace. Usually, in a story like this, the payoff doesn’t live up to the mystery. When things start to come together, that is where they begin to unravel. That moment, for me, came late in the game in Leather Maiden, and had less to do with the plot than with the climax. I’m not a huge action fan, and to me it reads even worse than it plays on the big screen. But that is a minor complaint. Lansdale ties up all the loose ends rather nicely, even if the Internet is making detective work a whole lot easier these days.
Lansdale is the type of writer who’s built in fan base will render him somewhat critic-proof. For the uninitiated, Leather Maiden is a good introduction to the popular author. I’m not likely to run out and buy the entire Hap and Leonard series, but next time I am drunk and want a burrito, Lansdale will be that burrito.