BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

LEATHER MAIDEN by Joe R. Lansdale

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I haven’t found anyone else that writes like Joe Lansdale. He’s like a fist in your face but with a tender heart at the elbow. He’ll reach out and slap you, offend you, and wring a guilty chuckle out of you all at the same time. When you finish one of his novels, you’ll be blessed and have to beg forgiveness.

Leather Maiden allows Joe to unleash those small-town sentimentality that I love about his work. The novel works in the small, dark places of murder, revenge, and baser instinct, but it also holds redemption, honor, and integrity – in the strangest of places. Because that’s just how Joe views the world and how he writes.

Cason Statler, once a nominee for the Pulitzer Prize and an ex-soldier that served in Iraq, returns home after getting fired from a big paper in Houston after having affairs with his boss’s wife and step-daughter and boozing it up. His mother and father welcome him home, but they expect him to be better.

Like a lot of other characters Joe has created, Cason is smart and tough, but he doesn’t always do the intelligent thing. Or even understand why it is he does some of the things he does. I like that about his characters, and Joe and I have had discussions at one time or another on the subject. We both know those people. We admire them and we pity them. At times, we’ve even been them.

So Cason drew me into his story and instantly felt like a long-lost friend. I loved his interview with the editor at the small-town paper where he ends up. The description of her had me laughing out loud and I finally had to explain to my wife. Joe isn’t always nice – or elegant, definitely not politically correct – about his descriptions of people. This was one of those times. So, again, my wife asked me why I read book like that. The answer is: those characters are real because I’ve met them, and they make me laugh out loud when I really shouldn’t.

Back home, Cason struggles with finding his place in the world and getting over an old love that wrote him a Dear John letter while he was over in Iraq. He’s not succeeding terribly well at either endeavor. Then, after miraculously landing the job at the paper – even stinking of booze and his shirt buttoned wrong, he latches onto a true mystery of a young college student that went missing six months ago.

At first, nobody much cares about Cason’s foray into the investigation of Caroline Allison. The townsfolk are more interested in his take on evolutionary science and are waiting for the local preacher’s rebuttal on the matter. Then a mysterious package arrives with a DVD containing footage of the missing college girl and Cason’s brother Jimmy. The risk goes up immensely, and it becomes personal. And that’s the point that I definitely couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished it.

Throughout the investigation, Joe leavens the whole mix with small town humor and wry observations on the nature of people, throws in some action scenes, and add a mysterious semi-partner named Booger who counts days that he didn’t shoot someone as wasted.

I love Joe’s honesty and eye for real people in his writing. I grew up in small towns that were a lot like the ones Joe grew up in. People that didn’t grow up there think Joe makes up a lot of the stuff he writes about, but I know he’s just borrowing real stories about people that are twisted, mean, and not always the smartest banana in the bunch. But he writes with conviction and experience.

Leather Maiden won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But there’s an honest mystery in it, more than a dash of noir, a sympathetic character, and more than a few eye-opening observations about people and life. A lot of them are inappropriate. You’ll have a good time, and you’ll laugh out loud when you’re not supposed to.

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