Joe R. Lansdale has long been a major writer in the fields of horror, dark suspense, noir, and the just plain weird. Versatile at all lengths, you never know what type of story he’s going to write next.
Bleeding Shadows is a massive collection of some of his more recent work. This is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read by him. Containing 20 stories plus 10 poems, there’s quite a smorgasbord of entertainment, most of it dark.
I’m not going to try to give a symopsis of everything here, just a look at some of my favorites. “Torn Away” could have been an episode of The Twilight Zone, in which a small town sheriff investigates a mysterious stranger in town and discovers a man who really needs to keep moving on down the road.
“The Bleeding Shadow” is a great mix of 1950s era hard boiled detective and Lovecraftian horror. This one is a great example of Lansdale’s mastery of voice. Lansdale calls “Quarry” an associational sequel to Richard Matheson’s “Prey”. With it, he shows why he can be considered one of Matheson’s literary heirs.
“Soldier’n” and “Hide and Horns” are westerns about a Buffalo Soldier named Deadwood Dick (featured in the forthcoming novel Black Hat Jack). “The Stars Are Falling” is a dark historical, in which a man who abandoned his family to fight in World War I returns to find out he can’t come home.
“The Metal Men of Mars” is an authorized John Carter story. Lansdale’s love of Burroughs shows here. Lansdale returns to horror in “Morning, Noon, and Night”. And the haunted house story “What Happened to Me” reminded me in places of M. R. James. It also had some of the creepiest passages I’d read in a long time.
Lansdale channeled Ray Bradbury in “Starlight, Eyes Bright”, a quiet science fiction tale with just the right dose of horror. In “Shooting Pool” some high school kids learn that they aren’t as tough as they think they are. And the final novella, “Dread Island” mixes Huckleberry Finn with the characters of Uncle Remus (with a tip of the hat to Peter Pan).
Bleeding Shadows is a diverse collection. And while not everything was to my taste (Lansdale’s sense of humor and mine are very different), there was more than enough that I thoroughly enjoyed to keep me reading past the time I should have been in bed. Lansdale says in the story notes that the novella is his favorite form, and I agree with him. I’d prefer to read novellas to just about anything else.
Bleeding Shadows came out last year, and the trade hardcover edition is out of print. Fortunately William Schaefer is forward thinking enough that Subterranean is now issuing ebooks, so you can still enjoy the stories.