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A Fine Dark Line Paperback – October 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The atmosphere is as thick as an East Texas summer day in Edgar-winner Lansdale's (The Bottoms) engaging, multilayered regional mystery, which harks back to 1958. Thirteen-year-old Stanley Mitchel, Jr., has enough on his hands just growing up in Dewmont, Tex., when he literally stumbles on a buried cache of love letters. Stanley pursues the identity of the two lovers with help from the projectionist at his family's drive-in, an aged black man who quotes Sherlock Holmes and doesn't mince words about the world's injustices. As the truth of a gruesome 20-year-old double murder comes to light in the sleepy town, so do the facts of life, death, men, women and race for young Stanley. Unfortunately, this wealth of experience sometimes strains credulity. For instance, Stanley, his sister, Callie, and friend Richard witness a secret burial, see a local phantom, are chased by a murderer and barely miss being hit by a train-all in one night. As the older and wiser Stanley says of the past, "More had happened to my family in one summer than had happened in my entire life." The "down-home" dialect is occasionally overdone, too, with more ripe sayings than Ross Perot on caffeine. But Lansdale clearly knows and loves his subject and enlivens his haunting coming-of-age tale with touches of folklore and humor.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Lansdale makes a rich stew of memory and mystery in the voice of Stanley Mitchel Jr., who is 13 in 1958 and is writing down, in midlife, what he recalls. His parents own the drive-in in Dewmont, Texas; his dad calls his mom "Gal"; his sister, Callie, is turn-your-head pretty and feisty besides. Stanley finds in the burnt ruins behind the drive-in a cache of love letters. Stanley--innocent enough at the beginning of the story to still believe in Santa Claus--is fascinated by the letters and soon learns that the fire marked the deaths of two young women, long ago. Those deaths ripple through the pages, as Stanley struggles with knowledge of good and evil: his friend Richard's abusive dad; the black cook's stalker boyfriend; the drive-in projectionist who faces twin demons of age and alcohol. Stanley's mother, father, and sister are vivid, glowing personages. Stanley doesn't unravel everything, but race and power, and what people do to each other in the name of desire and religion, coalesce to a mighty climax. GraceAnne DeCandido
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mysterious Press; Reprint edition (October 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446691674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446691673
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #773,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Mr. Lansdale is a superb writer.
Rick Mitchell
He is a genius story teller, and always gives the characters of his novels such rich authenticity.
Erica Hodge
I just did not want this book to end, I loved the story and the characters so much!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Wayne C. Rogers on January 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Joe R. Lansdale's newest novel, A FINE DARK LINE, the reader is carried back to the summer of 1958 when thirteen-year-old Stanley Mitchell, Jr. and his family move to Dewmont, Texas to take over the ownership of the town's only drive-in movie theater. This is the summer that Stanley will lose his childhood innocence and learn that there's no Santa Claus, what sex is really about, the ugly truth concerning racism, and the painful reality about death, murder and the human monsters that hide behind the masks of one's next-door neighbors. It's also the summer that young Stanley begins to learn about the power of friendship, family, love, and the unrelenting courage that's needed in the face of horror. Stanley's journey into adulthood begins when he finds a half-buried metal box filled with old love letters near a burnt-down house in the woods behind the drive-in theater where he and his family now live. The letters belonged to a young girl who was gruesomely murdered almost two decades before. The fact that the crime was never solved triggers Stanley's curiosity. With the help of his older sister, Caldonia, and his new friends Richard Chapman and old Buster Lighthorse Smith, he begins to slowly, but persistently, dig into the past, not knowing that what he discovers will change his life forever. Brilliantly written by one of America's top authors, A FINE DARK LINE carries us back to when comic books were a nickel, Tarzan movies played on TV in the mornings, and a young boy could believe that the fictional John Carter of Mars actually existed. This was a time when anything seemed possible, and small-town life during the hot, sweltering summer months was slow and relaxed, and the local teenagers flocked to the drive-in theater at night to see the newest movies and to make out in their cars.Read more ›
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on April 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Joe Lansdale proves again he can recreate with a fine eye growing up in East Texas during the '50's. Perhaps "A Fine Dark Line" is a bit too close to his prize-winning "Bottoms," but nevertheless, this is prime Lansdale reading.
Stanley Mitchel, Jr. 13 resides in Dewton, Texas. His daddy owns the Dew Drop Drive-In movie, and their home is kind of between the screen and the concession stand, which Stanley thinks is a very good thing. The whole family, Mom ("Gal"), Daddy, and older sister Callie run the theatre. It is the summer of 1958, and as Stanley says, more things happen in that summer than have happened in his entire life. He finds a hidden trove of love letters that lead in him to a burned out plantation in the woods in back of the drive-in and discovers a young girl was burned to death in the fire. On the same night another young girl was murdered on the railroad tracks, decapitated and her head never found. Rumored ghosts abound. The remnants of the house and mill are eerily entwined with vines and saplings that have grown around and through them. Stanley decides to investigate the mystery, and gets a great deal more than he bargained for---corruption in high places, blackmail, and two psychotics: father of his best friend Richard and erstwhile boyfriend Bubba, huge and terrifying, of the family's housekeeper Rosy Mae.
The characterizations are sublime. High spirited, cheerleader-cute sister Callie is wonderfully drawn. She knows she has great powers of attraction and uses them like an inexperienced marksman with an assault rifle. Friend Richard wrenches your heart with his deprived and catastrophic home life. The family employees, Buster, the projectionist, and Rosy Mae, crackle with life, earthiness, and vibrancy.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The arrival of A FINE DARK LINE prompts a legitimate question regarding its author, Joe R. Lansdale: is there anything this guy can't do well? My first encounter with him was THE DRIVE IN, a science fiction horror novel. This was followed by THE MAGIC WAGON --- a gothic western if you will --- and COLD IN JULY, a mystery. Then came the Batman-based CAPTURED BY THE ENGINES, TARZAN'S LOST ADVENTURE, the Jonah Hex comic book story arcs, and on and on and on...and they are all great. So with A FINE DARK LINE, we have a coming of age novel set in rural Texas in the 1950s, a time both better and worse than our own and inexorably linked to it. And, like all his other works that have preceded it, A FINE DARK LINE is his finest work to date.
A FINE DARK LINE is told through the eyes of Stanley Mitchell, a thirteen year-old boy standing on the summer cusp of adolescence, the younger of two children in a family that isn't poverty-stricken but not exactly next door neighbors to Scrooge McDuck, either. No, the Mitchells are the owners and proprietors of the only drive-in theater in Dewmont, Texas. Stanley's youth and innocence are consumed in a slow-burning maelstrom sparked by his discovery of a tin box containing a collection of troubled love letters that ultimately lead him to a burned out house, the mysterious deaths of two young women and secrets that the powers that be in Dewmont would prefer to stay buried. Stanley's unlikely ally is Buster Smith, the projectionist at the theater, an elderly black man whose attempts to drown his demons in alcohol are doomed to failure but who has a depth that only Stanley is aware of. In attempting to solve the mysteries of the deaths of the two women, Stanley exposes not only himself, but also his family and friends, to danger.
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