If you hand someone copies of Edge of Dark Water and Bubba Ho-Tep with the author's name removed, it's unlikely they'd guess the two were written by the same man. One is a critically acclaimed coming-of-age story that's drawn favorable comparisons to the work of Mark Twain; the other is a horror story set in a decrepit nursing home, starring principal characters that include an ancient mummy, the real Elvis Presley, and an elderly black man who thinks he's JFK.
Both of these are works by Joe R. Lansdale, and on the surface they are night and day. However, if you look close enough, you'll see the types of things in both that epitomize Lansdale's writing: sharp wit, flawless characterization, and pure storytelling muscle.
All of these traits, from the vivid voice to the fearless exploration of genres, are represented in Lansdale's latest (and, at 500 pages struggling to contain 30 stories and poems, his largest) collection, Bleeding Shadows, which is set to be released in November by Subterranean Press.
One of Lansdale's favorite things to do, particularly in his horror work, is to take established tropes and mix them together to see what new flavors he can create. In "The Bleeding Shadow" he takes the familiar tale of a musician going to the crossroads to sell his soul for a song, and blends in the Lovecraftian elements of the unseen horrors just beyond our view, held back by the thinnest of veils – in this case, a discordant piece of music. In "Christmas with the Dead," he sets an off-kilter Christmas story in the middle of an undead uprising, and in "Hide and Horns" Lansdale gives us one of his signature "weird westerns."
Lansdale also finds time to pay tribute to some of his favorite writers. "Quarry" is a follow-up to Richard Matheson's famous story about a malevolent Zuni fetish doll, "Prey." "The Metal Men of Mars" is a direct descendent of the Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. But most of the material here is pure Lansdale, such as "Mr. Bear," which illustrates the darker side of a certain forest fire-hating environmental icon.
This large and varied collection provides a perfect encapsulation of the author's work. Lansdale has spent his entire career gleefully casting aside boundaries, rules and labels in pursuit of his unique vision, and we the readers are all the richer for it. In Bleeding Shadows no two stories are the same, but there’s no doubt they’re all the work of the same supreme talent.