Moon Lake by Joe R. Lansdale
Mulholland Books (June 2021)
352 pages; $23.49 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Chad Lutzke
After a man attempts a murder/suicide with his 13-year-old son, the boy survives, is orphaned, and goes through a heartbreaking journey into adulthood, where the meat of the book begins.
As an adult, Daniel Russel returns to his hometown, where he’s met with more puzzles than he has clues regarding his father and the town’s history, which ultimately leads to a DIY investigation with the help of one-time crush, Ronnie Candles, and a few unlikely locals.
Moon Lake is an original small-town murder and corruption whodunnit mixed with a healthy dose of “now-how-the-hell-they-gonna-get-‘em?”. It’s Hap and Leonard without Leonard. Or if Leonard was a woman.
Those familiar with Lansdale will certainly feel right at home here, not just with the economy of words and sometimes side-splitting metaphors, but familiar tropes he loves to play with: Racism, interracial couples, boxing, dead bodies in water, bridges, and of course, Texas.
This is Lansdale through-and-through. If another author’s name was on the cover — like some Bachman-esque attempt at hiding the mojo storyteller’s identity — I’d call bullshit two pages in.
Fans of Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series will get the most joy out of this one, as it contains that same snarky camaraderie and buddies-on-the-case investigating, though this time not everyone’s an old friend, or a guy.
If my description thus far doesn’t sound like new territory that’s because it’s not. It’s not supposed to be. And if it were, I’d be less enthusiastic about the five stars I’ve given Moon Lake. You’re getting a Joe R. Lansdale murder mystery here. This is what he does. This is why we love him. This is why we love AC/DC too, right? Record after record we know what we’re getting — that unique DNA we signed up for. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and all that.
I’ve read enough Lansdale to get the sense that at one point Joe dreamt of being a sort of PI there in Texas, where he’d stumble upon a murder and gather an unlikely group of friends to get down to business. You can certainly add this book to the list of reasons I believe that.
Like with any Lansdale book, Moon Lake has great characterization, creative dialogue, and knee-slapping metaphors. He also provides a great urgency to see some characters get what’s coming, which helps turn the last 100 pages toward a smile-inducing, satisfactory ending. Matter of fact, it may be the end I’m most impressed by. Many of us like happy endings, but we don’t like a pretty bow tying things together, painting a perfect picture that would never really happen. While the bow may be there with Moon Lake, it’s full of dirt and a few tears, humanizing our protagonist even more, and in a way that feels genuine.
If Joe ever decided to retire Hap and Leonard, Daniel Russell is an adequate replacement. Flawed but full of heart. Curious but not enough to kill the cat. Not brave enough to run toward a bullet, but not scared enough to run when wrongs need righting. Highly recommended.