One of the benefits of COLD IN JULY being made into an independent movie (adapted by screenwriter/actor Nick Damici and directed by Jim Mickle) is this new, movie tie-in edition from Tachyon, Joe R. Landsdale’s publisher. So now this early work from one of America’s finest storytellers – first published in 1989 and nearly impossible to find since – is once again available. That’s wonderful news not only for the legion of Lansdale fans but also for those who love a finely told crime story.
Early one morning, Richard Dane is awakened by a noise coming from the living room of his house in the small town of LaBorde, Texas. He goes downstairs to look, and sure enough, finds a burglar has broken into his home. The burglar hears Dane and reaches for a gun. But Dane is also armed and gets a shot off first, killing the burglar.
When the local police arrive, the officer in charge immediately identifies the armed intruder as Freddy Russel, a local small-time criminal with a long history of petty crimes. The officer assures Dane that the case is open-and-shut; especially since Dane killed Freddy in self-defense. But the officer also warns Dane about Ben Russel, Freddy’s father, also a career criminal who is about to be released from prison and probably hell-bent for revenge.
But instead Dane reaches out to Ben, and the two men suddenly find themselves united by local corruption, deception, and brutality. To help them find the truth, they employ Jim Bob Luke, an eccentric private investigator whose connections on both sides of the law take the men deeper to a long-held conspiracy.
The story is told from Dane’s first-person perspective and thrusts us into its dark heart from the opening sentence. Events move swiftly, but allow enough moments of reflection and introspection to give Dane and the other characters the kind of depth that encourages us to stay with them as the story unfolds.
This is Lansdale in his full-on noir crime mode, without a hint of horror or the supernatural. While the realism feels familiar to fans of Lansdales’s Hap and Leonard series, they will undoubtedly notice the marked lack of humor that distinguishes such stories. Indeed what small comic relief there is comes from the outrageous comments and observations made by Jim Bob Luke in his Texas-bred, chicken-fried perception. It’s just enough to allow for some breathing space without altering the focus or ambiance of the story.
In midst all the darkness Lansdale adds a subtle but recurring theme of fatherhood as both Dane and Ben wonder about their actions and the legacy they leave for their children. The deft incorporation of this theme into the crimes that drive the plot demonstrates that, even in his early works, Lansdale was far more than just another genre author. It’s a skill he would continue to hone and that would ultimately bring his work to the attention of critics and readers far removed from horror or crime fiction..
This new edition is further enhanced by an original forward by director Jim Mickle, and a new afterword by Lansdale himself. Mickle recalls what first attracted him to the novel and the many false-starts his adaptation suffered along the way to completion. Lansdale reveals the events that planed the seed of the story in his unconscious, and how it seemed to flow full-borne from his mind to his typewriter when he finally devoted himself to the story.
Lansdale also comments how happy he is to see a new edition of this novel back in print after so long a time. That’s true for us readers as well.
Regardless if you plan to see the movie or not, now’s your chance to fill that gap in your Lansdale collection — or finally get one started. —Alan Cranis