A trip down to Lansdale country – East Texas – always promises excitement and run-ins with John Law and good ol’ boys alike. In Lansdale’s latest standalone novel, More Better Deals, shifty car salesman Ed Edwards walks the line between business and pleasure when sweet little thing Nancy fails to make payments on a red Cadillac in 1962. Ed and Nancy fall in love, and start scheming to get rid of Nancy’s abusive husband, while Ed tries to move his family permanently to the white side of town in a time before the Civil Rights movement.
Lansdale, best known for his long running Hap and Leonard books, knows how to draw fascinating characters, even when he’s creating an homage. Nancy’s the classic, bad news gal who isn’t as innocent as she seems. Ed never claims to be an angel, but, like Hap, he comes by morality naturally since helping others always seems to help him – until Nancy comes along. However, Ed’s plans never land on the right side of the law: he cheats customers at the car dealership where he works; he pays a forger to create birth certificate for himself and his sister that list White under race; he beats thugs who sell his alcoholic mother booze. Ed and Nancy occupy a world where vice and extortion grease every wheel from the bottom to the top.
This bleak worldview, in addition to the bare plains setting, calls to mind pulp and noir master Jim Thompson. Thompson has influenced crime, suspense, and horror writers from Max Allan Collins to Stephen King, and a world where going to the police can never be good option pays him tribute. Besides this, Ed lives on the edge of a world where his next move plunge him into animalike savagery. His town, perched on the edge of Texas farmland, sits only steps away from literal wilderness. This darkness that envelops Ed has already overtaken Nancy, the classic femme fatale. Nancy’s mean streak comes not as a surprise, but as the most disappointing part since it seems random, and lacks the twisted logic that follows Ed’s screwball path to a life of crime.
However, More Better Deals captivates. It reads like a throwback to the old days when pulp actually was published cheap paper and not, as I read it, on a Kindle screen. At less than three hundred pages, it’s a short book that can easily occupy a bookworm over the weekend.
Four out of five stars
Page count: 262
Favorite quote: “I’d be killing for girl and profit, a somewhat more violent version of the American dream.”