Top positive review
Jim Thompson Is Alive and Happily Unwell
Reviewed in the United States on July 24, 2020
"What we got going for us, Ed, is that people think life is fair, that it’ll work out for them. That the government has their best interests at heart. That commercials on TV are trying to sell them something worth having when most of what they’re selling is just to sell it. Know how to talk up a bucket of sh** as a cure for baldness, there’s some meathead will buy it and pour it on his slick noggin. You play on what people think is right, and what they think is some special product, then they got to have it. Everyone’s got to have it. I tell someone that dead-rat smell in the trunk of a car is new-car smell, if they want the car, that’s what they’ll start smelling. We convince them. It might stink like a dead rat a week later, but for a few days, they’re driving around in it while it’s still working okay, it’s a smell they like.”
"I wanted the woman and I wanted the businesses, and mostly I wanted a shot to do well, better than my father did, better than my brother, and better than my mother would expect. I wanted a white man’s shot."
"Her eyes were kind of narrow, and I’d say that was her only flaw, way those black eyes looked at me standing there, like an alligator that was about to bite my head and roll with me down into deep water from which there would be no coming up."
Joe R. Lansdale is a pro who does everything well, from historical to horror, but I'll always prefer his cheerfully chatty, chillingly nasty little wooded Texas noirs like COLD IN JULY, HOT IN DECEMBER, the Hap and Leonard series novels, and especially this, his latest, MORE BETTER DEALS. In part because it's pure Lansdale, in part because it's pure spot-the-influence. It's sort of a blend of Charles Williams' HELL HATH NO FURY, James M. Cain's DOUBLE INDEMNITY, any number of Jim Thompson tales (THE NOTHING MAN is what most comes to mind) and and dash of Poe's THE TELL-TALE HEART, all strung together like severed Viet Cong ears on an American soldier's dogtag necklace with Lansdale's uniquely deliciously dark dialogue.
Ed Edwards is smart, but maybe not as smart as he thinks he is — he's a used-car salesman in a small town for more than one reason — and from the moment he meets Nancy Craig at a dusty East Texas used-car lot, circa 1964, he's in over his head and has only half an idea of it. As Nancy puts it: “You’re either the best con man I’ve ever met, and I pride myself on certain skills, or you’re the dumbest son of a b*tch ever squatted to sh** over a pair of shoes.”
Throw in a wandering husband, a shot at some insurance money, a literal dark family secret and a lot of lies, and you can almost taste the night rain dripping off the needles of the scrub pines before the story gets around to murder, kidnapping and blackmail in an ever-tightening spiral of sanity gone sideways.
That's a lot to pack in, but Lansdale does it with his usual brisk pacing that sacrifices nothing. Even as the pages fly and the plot thickens, you get a rich sense of time and place, and hidden corners of character that makes this a noir that honors its tropes but delivers a little extra butter on its drive-in popcorn. Good disturbing fun that goes down as dark and smooth as the contents of a tucked-away bottle in a Cadillac's trunk, to the last drop: "Those been in the chair didn’t have a chance to tell us about it. But figure it don’t hurt all that much, and it’s quick. They throw the switch, and the devil is showing you your motel room.”