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Murder Slim Review: FREEZER BURN

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This is one hell of a good novel from one hell of a good writer. But while it's still set in Lansdale's Deep South, this is a very distinctive book from his extensive output. So much so, I'm loath the fucking describe the story. Just buy FREEZER BURN and find out for yourself.

Lansdale prides himself on being a "Mojo" writer, jumping across genres when the mood takes him. Pretty much all of his output throws together three or four different genres, mixing realism with the fantastic.

Take Lansdale's Hap and Leonard books (like the excellent MUCHO MOJO and - my favourite - RUMBLE TUMBLE). On the surface, it's a buddy crime book with some nice realist touches. But then it throws in some extravagant karate action. His comic books JONAH HEX and BLOOD AND SHADOWS cut across even more genres. Western, fantasy, horror and even some sci-fi. He evokes a damn realistic, historical feel to his serial killer work (such as A FINE DARK LINE), yet they are infused with mysticism. The killers are typically regarded as fantasy monsters with supernatural powers... until they're finally shown to be all-too-real.

FREEZER BURN does have a little mysticism... a man frozen in a block of ice seems to be able to communicate with people. But, ultimately it's more of a straight crime... albeit one set in the world of a travelling freakshow. But, goddammit, those places existed and Lansdale has researched them well. The freaks are not monsters, they're often - just like in the movie FREAKS (which I'm reviewing next) - damn sympathetic.

Lansdale is very good with characters in general. In his Hap/Leonard series, the brilliant right-wing and gay Leonard is the work of a hugely savvy writer. But if you read a little about Lansdale's life, you can pick out characters that are his alter-egos. Hap is the clearest of these. He's great at hapkido, he's worked in an aluminium chair factory and he's a dedicated - and rational - liberal. Other novels have variations on that. They may have grown up at a drive-in, or love gritty horror movies, or have suffered with drunkards.

That, of course, isn't a problem. Lansdale is a fascinating guy, so it works. But it is notable that FREEZER BURN doesn't do down a personal route. The lead, Bill Roberts, is an asshole. He does a few decent things, but he's essentially a bad guy. That's a bold move in a novel, and it will alienate some readers. But it's done fucking beautifully. You kick yourself for feeling sympathy for Bill. He leeches onto the freakshow for purely selfish reasons. Yet he has just enough humanity you think he might be saved. By the pretty lady, or the nice guy with a full-grown hand on his torso... or indeed by the guy encased in ice.

I loved this book. Even as dyed-in the-wool fan of Lansdale, this stands out as one of my favourites.

Review by Steve Hussy