Author Joe R. Lansdale has said he thinks “Edge of Dark Water” is probably his best novel to date.
I can’t say it is or isn’t. I’m biased. I’ve long held “The Bottoms” by Lansdale to be the best novel I’ve ever read. It’s certainly Lansdale’s No. 1 book to date. “Edge of Dark Water,” however, is trying its best to push “The Bottoms” from its perch, and it just might succeed.
Joe Hill (author of “Horns” and “The Heart-Shaped Box”) called “Edge of Dark Water” a cross between “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Deliverance.” He wasn’t far off with that description.
When May Lynn, the prettiest girl in the county, is found dead in the Sabine River with a sewing machine tied around her ankles, her three closest friends — maybe her only friends — decide to dig up her body, burn it and take the ashes to Hollywood, where May Lynn always dreamed of going, hoping she would one day become famous.
Her friends — Sue Ellen, Jinx and Terry — all have their different personalities. Sue Ellen’s basically a pretty tomboy. Jinx, who is black, isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if it gets her into trouble in this Great Depression setting. Terry is a handsome young fellow, but everybody considers him to be a sissy.
The friends have little reason not to head west. To add to the situation, the three discover a cache of hidden money stolen from a bank by May Lynn’s brother.
Stealing a raft, the kids make their way down the river, but with folks after them for the bank’s money. The Shunk, a merciless killer and a legend, is hired to track the kids down and bring back the stolen loot. Shunk loves to kill in the most hideous ways. He chops the hands off his victims and keeps them as souvenirs tied around his neck. The kids don’t believe in him at first, but they soon will.
While the friends make their way down the river to the nearest town, they have all sorts of strange and death-defying adventures. It doesn’t hurt that they have an unexpected traveling companion with them. In fact, it eventually proves to be a blessing.
There’s also the matter of who murdered May Lynn, and the reveal is surprising.
“Edge of Dark Water” covers many themes that deal with the plight of humanity: love, hate, racism, parenting, child abuse, murder, friendship and evil. Lansdale doesn’t beat you over the head with it, but demonstrates how fragile life and friendship can be. The author clearly portrays life as it was during the ’30s. In some ways, not much has changed, and readers get a good look at the dark side of humanity.
Lansdale is a master at storytelling after 30 years of learning his craft. He knows how to weave a good, heart-wrenching tale, creating fully developed characters in such a way that you either love them or hate them, or maybe both at the same time.
Wayne C. Rogers is the author of the horror novellas “The Encounter” and “The Tunnels,” both of which can be purchased at Amazon’s Kindle Store for 99 cents each.