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Joe Lansdale first established himself through short stories. Even though the horror community first claimed his work, he also wrote several in crime fiction. Things Get Ugly:The Best Crime Fiction Of Joe R. Lansdale shares many of his favorites in the genre and gives an overview of a near four decade writing career.

We get samplings of his early dark stories with darker twists. "Drive In Date" still proves to be one of the most disturbing stories I've ever read and most of it is told through dialogue. Joe stated that part of his intention was to show the serial killer as a mundane, misogynist, and myopic instead of the brilliant Hannibal Lecter type and its matter of fact take makes it chilling. "Boys Will Be Boys" is a haunting tale that could almost be read as supernatural as well, looking at the connection of two sociopathic young men. The story has grown in impact in these post Columbine years. Lansdale took an odd almost comical incident that happened to him in real life and gives it a grim fictionalized look at our basest compulsions in "The Phone Woman." The energy of an angry young writer appears in these.

His fascination with The Great Depression pops up. He often uses for this era, like "Driving To Geronimo's Grave" about the misadventures of two siblings while they transport their dead uncle in an old Ford, to look at how the youth lived in the era. "Dirt Devils", that follows the falling apart of a third rate version of the Dillinger gang at a gas station, would make a great short film.

Much of the work is in the classic hard boiled style from the Manhunt magazine from the fifties and sixties made contemporary and told with the spin of his voice. "Booty And The Beast" uses reveals, twists, and reversals that herald back to those tough guy tales with his humor. He puts some cringe worthy moments in one of his most durable stories, "Steel Valentine". And talk about twists, he gives us one hell of on in "Incident On And Off A Mountain Road, which did get turned into a great short film.

The collection ends with one of his latest, "The Projectionist". Set in a fifties movie house with a yong projectionist wanting to save the usherette he loves from the bad man in her life. It demonstrates both the literary and life experience of an older writer. While just over twenty pages, it hits all of the plot points and also turns out to be a meditation on age, love, friendship, and what we dream, as well as being rich in characterization.

Things Get Ugly contains nineteen stories, each with a colorful introduction by Joe. By focusing on just one genre, it gives you the breadth and talent of his career. Also, I bet no other crime fiction collection has a lost weekend with a talking bear.


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