Sunset and Sawdust

Written by Joe Lansdale
Review by Steve Lewis

It begins as a tornado hits the home of Sunset Jones and her husband Pete, and it ends soon after a gigantic swarm of ground-clearing locusts hits the small East Texas sawmill town of Camp Rapture. The country is in the midst of the Depression, and Pete, the town’s constable, does not survive the house-leveling storm. While he is raping Sunset, she pulls his gun from his holster and shoots him clean through the head.

There are quite a few places in this book where I simply had to stop and say to myself “Wow!” or “Oh, my!” and this is only the first of them. The second is a little more subtle – Sunset’s mother-in-law, having gone through the same wife-beating routine with Pete’s daddy, sticks up for her, even so far as convincing the locals that Sunset would make a fine replacement for Pete as the town’s law enforcement officer. (She is the co-owner of the sawmill, after all.)

What does Sunset know about police work? Very little, but with two of the deputies, both of whom are either in love or lust with her, she starts right in – and makes enemies right and left. Uppity is not the word for Sunset. As far as Camp Rapture is concerned, she has three strikes against her. She shot her husband. She’s a woman doing a man’s job. She sided with a black man who killed the sheriff the next town over, not that that worked out very well.

This is not your ordinary detective puzzle mystery, although there is one to be solved. There are times when Lansdale verges into Stephen King territory, or perhaps this is the result that would occur if Mr. King were to verge into Mr. Lansdale’s East Texas venue, with some of the scariest villains you never read about in a Perry Mason courtroom drama.

What you will discover, if you decide to read this book, is that once started, you will never know which direction it will go next. Staid and sedate is not Joe R. Lansdale’s forte, and you will never find a better example than this.