“6:38 P.M. On an afternoon hotter than two rats fucking in a wool sock, John McBride, six-foot one-and-a-half, 220 pounds, ham-handed, built like a wild boar and of similar disposition, arrived by ferry from mainland Texas to Galveston Island, a six-gun under his coat and a razor in his shoes.”
Joe R. Lansdale. ‘The Big Blow’ in the best of Joe R. Lansdale. Tachyon (2010). p. 121
In an arresting opening sentence with a nice use of dashes Lansdale sets the tone and the barometer for a short story that reins in the ‘stranger comes to town’ motif against a backdrop of corruption and racism. As the story progresses heat and inclement weather hurl aggression as hired gun meets boxer for an unexpected ending. Lansdale, like Tom Franklin, seems to write what he knows: the Allen Tate‘s agrarian world of the American South gone horribly violent and wrong. Lansdale digs deep into the backwaters of Arkansas and east Texas, whether it is in this particularly story or over in his Hap and Leonard series of mysteries. Lansdale’s story of the questionable stranger for hire here reminds me of the ultra-violent Dashiell Hammett novel Red Harvest, a brutal 1929 novel poised on the precarious edge of what was to come: the Depression and world war.