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by Joe R. Lansdale
Knopf, March 2004
336 pages
ISBN: 0375414533

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Joe Lansdale, an experienced writer in several genres, has produced this book which is a novel full of suspense set in East Texas in the 1930s. There is a great deal of fast action in the book which has a fairly high death toll. The action scenes are effectively written erupting into a maelstrom of kicks, shootings and fire.

The heroine is Sunset, named because of her flaming red hair, who starts the events by shooting dead her husband, Pete, to stop him raping her. The mores of Depression-era Texas support women being submissive to their husbands but Sunset is tired of that. She takes over Pete's job as constable in their tiny town although this means that the people of the town see her as an uppity woman who does not know her proper place.

The poverty of this sawmill town of Rapture is shown very clearly -- resources are very limited and natural disasters take as much toll as man-made ones. The place of women is one issue but the one that really strikes the modern reader is the acceptance of the position of the black inhabitants. They are poor and downtrodden particularly if they also fail to observe their proper place. We have one lynching during the book but even more striking is the fear of the black man who finds Sunset partially clothed after a cyclone blows her house and possessions away. His concern is that no white man should think he has seen more than he should of a white woman. He knows that he would suffer and die if his actions were taken amiss.

The characters who assist Sunset and those whom she is forced to fight are often larger than life and frequently monstrous. The horror of many happenings is leavened by the clever use of language -- sunshine that 'rose, pink and oozing through the woods like a leaky blood blister', changes to 'large and yellow as the yolk of a fresh egg'.

The violence and sex that dominate most characters' thinking makes for vivid happenings and the humour used in describing these activities makes the reading exciting. There is philosophy in the responses of various people to the vicissitudes affecting them as they seek to make sense of their world.

The picture of the Depression in Texas is very well drawn in terms of work and the search for work, women's status and the insignificance of education and the harshness of the environment. Sunset grows as a character throughout the book. This book sweeps you along with it.

Reviewed by Jennifer S. Palmer, April 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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