by Joe R. Lansdale

Tachyon Publications
2014, 265 pages, $14.95

ISBN 978-1-61696-161-9

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Joe R. Lansdale always has a trademark gritty, ultradark humor regarding the way his mostly blue-collar, working man characters think and behave. But underneath their faults -- and they have some real doozies -- there is, almost it would seem, a moral center. The good guys are Good, with a lot of not-so-good, and have a bad-behavior, bad-judgment past; the bad guys are Bad, partially because they were either abused when young enough or stupid (or immature) enough to make the mistakes we all make. So how did the Bad and the Good become that way?

At heart, they stand morally correct in whatever behaviors they adopt. And Lansdale takes us along with them on their rides.

Though published in 1989 (assuming of course it was revised since), and republished in 2014, COLD IN JULY gives us law-abiding picture frame shop owner Richard Dane, who stops an attempt at burglary and perhaps murder at the hands of suspected burglar Freddy Russel, wayward son of ex-con Ben Russel. Dane kills Freddy and is exonerated as a result of protecting Dane’s own property and his life. Enraged over his son’s violent death, Ben pays a visit to Dane to kill him in revenge for Freddy’s death. But Ben, while creating some house damage in the struggle, can’t exact revenge, as he wants to, on Richard and Ann’s son, Jordan.

So while Russel is carted away by the police, Dane discovers a wallet that Russel leaves behind with photos of Ben’s son. But Dane realizes that the photo is not Ben’s son: at least it’s not the guy he killed in the burglary. So who was the burglar?

That’s what Dane must find out. So he asks Ben, and Ben comes up with Jim Bob Luke, a private investigator, to help out. Luke uncovers, inch by inch, a police conspiracy. Why did they fake the death of Freddy (who apparently is still alive)? Who, exactly, did Dane kill, and why?

That’s the whole point of COLD IN JULY. There’s madness to the mystery. And all this is typical and rewarding for Lansdale fans.