cover image Mucho Mojo

Mucho Mojo

Joe R. Lansdale. Mysterious Press, $29 (324pp) ISBN 978-0-89296-490-1

Anyone interested in the respective demands of the short story and the novel will find an object lesson in this new chiller from Lansdale ( The Nightrunners ), a pioneer of splatterpunk and dark suspense. No horror author writes a meaner short story than this winner of three Bram Stoker Awards, whose velvet-smooth tales are packed tight with fierce action and moral heat. But give Lansdale space, as in this lazy yarn about two friends who uncover a serial killer of children in east Texas, and he's apt to turn in a short story air-blown to book length. The premise is gripping enough: narrator Hap Collins, a field hand, moves in with old pal Lester Pine, who's inherited his Uncle Chester's house; they find a skeleton beneath the floor and the late Chester becomes the prime suspect in the disappearance of several local boys. Hap and Leonard doubt that Chester was the killer. Their gumshoeing is padded with pages of ethical filler: Hap is white and Leonard black, allowing Lansdale to wax on about race relations. While Hap is straight, Leonard is gay, prompting much talk about gay rights. And the duo's neighbors are crack dealers, inspiring homilies on ghetto life and drug use--and sparking the novel's misplaced high point, when the pair set fire to the crack house. After all this earnestness, there's little energy or room left for the main plot, which ambles on to reveal a villain so obvious he might as well have worn a black hat. Those wanting prime Lansdale should try his story collection, By Bizarre Hands . Author tour. (Aug.)