Joe R. Lansdale ‘Waltz of Shadows’ Review
Written by: Wayne C. Rogers
Waltz of Shadows by Joe R. Lansdale is now out in Kindle format after having been first written back in 1991 in a much longer version for Mysterious Press. Because the author felt he’d missed the mark in the writing of this mainstream novel, he had it pulled from publication and more or less let it sit in a trunk for the next several years. When Subterranean Press expressed an interest in doing a signed, limited edition of it, Mr. Lansdale took the book out of storage and trimmed over two hundred pages off of the manuscript. Though he felt better about the final result, there was still a lot of trepidation with regards to seeing the book published.
I have no idea.
This is a terrific novel!
When I read his introduction to it, I was expecting a clunker with maybe a few shining moments. Instead, I found myself hooked in the first twenty pages and then propelled forward like a human cannon ball being fired from one end of the circus tent to the other.
Waltz of Shadows is the story of Hank Small, a pretty nice guy who owns a video store and has a great wife and two wonderful children, and what happens to him when his young nephew, Billy, calls him for help.
It seems that Billy got involved in a yuppie gang of young people who enjoyed perverted sex and courting death for that sharp adrenaline rush. One night when the gang decides to do a home invasion in order to score a little cash, they encounter two men (Fat Boy and Snake) at their intended victim’s home who are the personification of death itself. Billy manages to escape, but the rest of the gang is tortured and murdered.
Billy knows that he’s being hunted by the two psychos and wants his uncle Hank to help him out of this dilemma. Not knowing quite what to do, Hank turns to his half brother, Arnold, who he hasn’t talked to in over ten years. Arnold is one tough hombre and has spent a bit of time in prison. Hank realizes that if anyone will know how to handle the two psychopaths, it’ll be him. Before the two brothers can even get a game plan rolling, however, Fat Boy and Snake find Billy and do a little good-natured torturing to see who knows about them.
From that point on, nobody in the Small family is safe. If Hank wants to keep his wife and children alive, both he and Arnold are going to have to prepare for a bloodbath.
Waltz of Shadows is certainly dark, violent, intense, and utterly suspenseful. Fat Boy and Snake are two of the vilest criminals I’ve ever read in fiction. They’re ruthless and evil in every sense of the word, and totally believable. When they invade Hank’s home, humiliating him and raping his wife, the reader is stunned and left speechless by the graphic violence and how realistically it’s described.
Mr. Lansdale doesn’t pull any punches. He sets the ground rules for what’s to follow so the reader will understand Hank and Arnold’s need for absolute revenge, and that it’s going to be a fight to the death with no mercy shown by either side. All of the characters are avidly drawn, and the prose is pure Lansdale at its best.
Except for Andrew Vachss, I don’t know of any other author who could’ve written a novel of such darkness and violence with the protagonists managing to keep their humanity. This novel is definitely a winner! I hope Mr. Lansdale will eventually allow it to be published in a mass-market paperback format so that thousands of other readers will get to experience this “dark time in the dark woods.”
It should be mentioned that this novel is one of Mr. Lansdale’s first books and therefore of a somewhat different style of writing that doesn’t quite measure up to his newer books. This is Mr. Lansdale at the beginning of his long career.
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