Moon Lake resembles some of his standalone thrillers like Cold In July, where Joe R. Lansdale’s talent for horror showed the monster in your small town citizen. He returns to the form with a mature voice and confidence of an experienced writer. The result is a thriller with strong characters that cuts deep.
The story begins in 1968 when thirteen year-old Daniel Russell is rescued by a young girl, Reggie, when his father attempts murder/suicide by driving into Moon Lake in the Texas town of Long Lincoln. The young white boy is taken in by Reggie’s Black family. He falls for her as her family helps him heal before Long Lincoln’s sheriff finds an aunt to take him in.
In the late seventies, the sheriff gets in touch with Daniel, now a journalist and writer with one book under his belt, to tell him his father’s car has finally been discovered and dredged up. Remains have been found in the trunk, assumed to be his mother who disappeared around the same time. Daniel returns to Long Lincoln to learn it is not his mother. He decides to stick around and search for answers, both for a new book and a grasp at closure. Reggie, now a Long Lincoln deputy, backs him up.
The search for answers delves into the various divides in a small town or any society. Most of it is between rich and poor. One of the creepiest set pieces takes place at the country club of the town’s elites. These men manipulate the lower classes of the town and feed off them. Race is also explored in unique, subtle, and not so subtle ways, often in the relationship between Daniel and Reggie. Their romance can still be considered taboo in the seventies, particularly in a town like Long Lincoln.
Joe’s earlier books of this variety often leaned on a younger and angrier writer’s shock value. Every violent detail would be brought to the readers, giving the feel of an exploitation film (although a smart and well crafted one). Moon Lake relies more on dialogue and subtle action, although Daniel proves to be adept with his use of an axe handle. The horror comes more from mood than gore. He pulls us in more. Restraint would not be the proper term, but he places the reader completely in control as Alfred Hitchcock would do in one of his finer films.
Moon Lake is Lansdale on top of his game. He unfolds the mystery in a way that each reveal leads Daniel and Reggie into more danger and darker truths of humanity. By going back to an earlier kind of story with a more experienced voice, Joe Lansdale proves that after more than forty years of work, he is hardly finished. He may be just beginning.
Moon Lake is available through BookPeople.