The Bottoms Book reviews


Author(s): Joe R. LansdaleDownload  


The narrator of The Bottoms is Harry Collins, an old man obsessively reflecting on certain key experiences of his childhood. In 1933, the year that forms the centerpiece of the narrative, Harry is 11 years old and living with his mother, father, and younger sister on a farm outside of Marvel Creek, Texas, near the Sabine River bottoms. Harry’s world changes forever when he discovers the corpse of a young black woman tied to a tree in the forest near his home. The woman, who is eventually identified as a local prostitute, has been murdered, molested, and sexually mutilated. She is also, as Harry will soon discover, the first in a series of similar corpses, all of them the victims of a new, unprecedented sort of monster: a traveling serial killer.From his privileged position as the son of constable (and farmer and part-time barber) Jacob Collins, Harry watches as the distinctly amateur investigation unfolds. As more bodies — not all of them “colored” — surface, the mood of the local residents darkens. Racial tensions — never far from the surface, even in the best of times — gradually kindle. When circumstantial evidence implicates an ancient, innocent black man named Mose, the Ku Klux Klan mobilizes, initiating a chilling, graphically described lynching that will occupy a permanent place in Harry Collins’s memories. With Mose dead and the threat to local white women presumably put to rest, the residents of Marvel Creek resume their normal lives, only to find that the actual killer remains at large and continues to threaten the safety and stability of the town.Lansdale uses this protracted murder investigation to open up a window on an insular, poverty-stricken, racially divided community. With humor, precision, and great narrative economy, he evokes the society of Marvel Creek in all its alternating tawdriness and nobility, offering us a varied, absolutely convincing portrait of a world that has receded into history. At the same time, he offers us a richly detailed re-creation of the vibrant, dangerous physical landscapes that were part of that world and have since been buried under the concrete and cement of the industrialized juggernaut of the late 20th century. In Lansdale’s hands, the gritty realities of Depression-era Texas are as authentic — and memorable — as anything in recent American fiction.

Some Reviews: 793 in


Dan rated it      

A short dynamite novel about a serial murder spree that occurred near the Sabine River in SE Texas during the Great Depression.

Through a strong sense of place and evocative imagery, the author was able to convey a completely convincing world full of bigotry and violent murders.

Although an original piece of work, The Bottoms is reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird. Not quite at the classic level, but pretty darn good. The main characters are Harry and his sister Tom. They stumble across the first murder. Their dad is the constable who investigates, pretty soon Harry, Tom and dad are caught in the midst of the string of murders. So there are some parallels to Scout, Atticus etc.

I gave The Bottoms 4.5 stars. I rounded up because the writing was so efficient, not many wasted pages.

One note, some of the subject matter around the murders, attempted murders and rapes is pretty graphic, so not a book suitable for younger teens.


Ctgt rated it     

4.5 stars. Loved this book. I thought I had read Lansdale before but after looking at his list this is my first. Won’t be my last. You know how sometimes an author or book just hits that sweet spot? Was it the setting, ’30’s back country of Texas? The intertwining of local legend/folklore about the Goat Man? The mystery surrounding the murders of local women? The style of his writing? All of it! Need to read more Lansdale!

The world slipped back to about as normal as it would ever be again, though to my eyes it was never as sharp and clear as it had been, and nothing I could do would ever completely bring it back.


Skip rated it     

Dust bowl noir. Set in East Texas during the depression era days when racism was rampant, a dead black woman is found, mutilated, wrapped in wire and hung in a dark piece of swampland, discovered by a young boy and his younger sister. They report their findings to their father, a fair-hearted man, who happens to be the local constable, who wants justice served. The family is the main story, including the mother and grandmother, and the challenges faced to find what turns out to be a serial killer. Lansdale keeps you guessing until the very end, weaving in a childhood bogeyman known as the Goat Man.


Suzy rated it     

This is a coming of age story of almost 12-year-old Harry Crane, told in retrospect by his 80-something self, about the end of his innocence in 1933-34 Depression-era deep East Texas. It is also a murder mystery, a story of a family trying to make ends meet in the small town of Marvel Creek, a morality tale of how to be in the horrific world of the Jim Crow south and a portrait of a very specific place and time in history. Most of Lansdale’s writing is described as Southern Gothic and I only had a feeling of what that meant. So off to Wikipedia, which defines it as:

Common themes in Southern Gothic literature include deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may or may not dabble in hoodoo, ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

I’ve only read this and Lansdale’s Edge of Dark Water, but both fit this definition perfectly. Lansdale creates vivid descriptions of the look and smell of the East Texas landscape, builds suspense that keeps you turning pages, writes with wisdom and humor and pays homage to To Kill a Mockingbird and other classics of the genre. I loved the characters and their responses to the events of that year along the Sabine River. I burned through this book in just a few days, finding it hard to put down. I could list a few complaints – maybe too deliberate in his attempt to fit the genre, maybe too much patterned after TKAM, maybe too obvious in making his points – but I won’t.


Jeanette rated it     

This author is prolific, and I’ve read more than a few, but this one is my favorite so far. I considered giving it a 5 star. The only category that it lacks slightly, just a fraction, is in the plot twist quotient. Because I guessed the culprit at about 75% completed on the Kindle read.

How refreshing to dive so deeply into East Texas with no alternating narrators or seemingly unconnected locations or story lines that never meet/mix until the midst of the book! I’m rather sick of all the gimmicks currently in mode. This is told within an actual chronological progression- an old fashioned story with a beginning, a middle and a true finale. A blended end mix that is far more than just a coming of age tale. Shades of “To Kill a Mockingbird”!

Highly recommend this one if you have never read Joe R. Lansdale. This mystery blends coming of age with far deeper social and cultural perceptions of Ku Klux Klan Depression era creek country Texas.

4.5 stars and an easy crisp read- highly recommend.


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