I’m a long-time Lansdale fan. I haven’t read all of his stuff, and I haven’t been reading him “since the beginning,” but I started reading his stuff about 20 years ago, and I always enjoy his stories. He’s a gifted storyteller, and a good writer, to boot. He’s one of those writers who still entertains, even when his stories are a little mediocre, and that’s what keeps me coming back to his novels.
I picked up Leather Maiden from the library because I saw it was set in Camp Rapture, which was the setting for Sunset and Sawdust, Lansdale’s best book so far. I was hoping for a continuation of that story, and I was a little let down because the setting was the current time, and Sunset Jones was only mentioned as an ancestor of the main character, but I was still caught up in Cason Statler’s story. He’s an Iraq War veteran, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, but he has a touchy past, so he moves back to his hometown and starts working for the small-time local newspaper. It’s a good change of pace for him, but he revisits a story about a woman who went missing about eight months before, and of course, revisiting that story upsets some of the locals and sets off another chain of violent events. Cue the start of the plot and the mystery.
One of the things I like about Lansdale’s writing is his dialogue. It’s sharp and witty, and a lot of the story is told through the banter between his main characters. It’s no surprise that his best-selling series is the Hap & Leonard one, since it uses an established pair of characters who can bounce that banter back and forth. The thing is, all of his characters talk like that. In Leather Maiden, we have the banter between Cason and Booger, his war buddy, between Cason and Jimmy, his brother, and between Cason and his boss at the paper, and it all sounds about the same. It’s not bad, it was just something I noticed this time around, and now I wonder if I’m going to start seeing it in all of his writing.
Leather Maiden moves quickly and easily, but it’s not a very memorable story. It’s still a Lansdale novel, which means that it’s going to be pretty dark, so a lot of the imagery will stay with you, but the plot just isn’t anything all that special. There are a couple of moments which are just a little too convenient, and others that will make you question what’s going on in the characters’ heads, but everything that’s presented in the story is necessary. It’s put together well, and it works, it just doesn’t have much resonance. Sunset and Sawdust and A Fine Dark Line had that resonance, and I missed it in this novel. In the end, I think it was just because I couldn’t care about the characters as much as I could with his other novels.
I would rank this novel somewhere between Lost Echoes and A Fine Dark Line; it’s entertaining enough to keep you reading, without it being dumb, so long as you don’t think too hard about what’s going on. But if you like Lansdale and need a fix, Leather Maiden should do you just fine.