Things Get Ugly cover

Things Get Ugly

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The Best Crime Stories of
Joe R. Lansdale
Crime Fiction / Mystery / Short Stories
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Date of Publication: August 15, 2023
Number of Pages: 352 pages
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Things Get Ugly cover.

Edgar Award winner Joe R. Lansdale (the Hap and Leonard series) returns to the piney, dangerous woods of East Texas. In this career retrospective of his best crime stories, Lansdale shows exactly why critics continue to compare him to Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner.

  • In the 1950s, young small-town projectionist mixes it up with a violent gang.
  • When Mr. Bear is not alerting us to the dangers of forest fires, he lives a life of debauchery and murder.
  • A brother and sister travel to Oklahoma to recover the dead body of their uncle.
  • A lonely man engages in dubious acts while pining for his rubber duckie.

In this collection of nineteen unforgettable crime tales, Joe R. Lansdale brings his legendary mojo and witty grit to harrowing heists, revenge, homicide, and mayhem. No matter how they begin, things are bound to get ugly—and fast.

Nineteen unforgettable crime tales. Things Get Ugly - Joe R. Lansdale


“A terrifically gifted storyteller.”
Washington Post Book Review
“One of the best crime writers in the business.”
Ace Atkins, New York Times bestselling author of The Revelators
“While Lansdale’s work is as varied as the regions of Texas, there is one common link through it all: his brilliant storytelling.”
Grimdark Magazine
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Clueless Gent’s Rating for Things Get Ugly

5 star rating

After reading these short stories by author Joe R. Lansdale, one thing became crystal clear: Joe R. Lansdale writes what Joe R. Lansdale wants to write. That may seem an odd thing to say, but between the words I’m telling you that this author makes no pretense of being “politically correct” with his stories.

Admittedly, this is my first experience with Joe R. Lansdale, and I think the title of this anthology—Things Get Ugly—says it all. I imagine that Lansdale’s fans accept this kind of writing from him. Those that don’t accept it—well, it’s their loss in my opinion.

Someone once said that it takes much longer to write a short letter than to write a long letter. I agree with this. However, I don’t think that fully applies to short stories and novels. But I definitely think that being a great short story writer takes a skillset beyond that used by average novelists. There is much less time for character development, less time to immerse a reader in a scene, and good pacing becomes something much harder to achieve.

I’m sure this is likely true of his other anthologies, but Things Get Ugly is a masterclass on short story writing. The story Dead Sister, for example, has some wonderful pacing. It’s a classic gumshoe tale with a supernatural twist. The author gets to the climax somewhat quickly, but then he prolongs that climax with the addition of a small disaster.

“The hair on the back of my neck stood up like I had been shot with a quiver full of little arrows.”

—From Dead Sister

Santa at the Café is another great story! What I enjoyed the most was the number of plot twists that the author could squeeze into it.

I previously mentioned that this author does not worry about being politically correct, nor does he seem to worry about offending his readers. As I said, if you’re a fan, you accept this. For example, in one story two men are sent to beat up a grade school girl to teach a lesson to the girl’s father. Another story has a young man and his younger sister hauling the two-week-old corpse of their uncle in the back seat of their car during a Texas summer. (The description the author uses in that story is pretty ripe, I’ll tell you!) Another story touches on necrophilia.

Before each story, the author has a little blurb about how he came to write the following story. Maybe this is meant to show that some of the “subject matter” of the stories actually had some meaning to them. (That’s just a guess.)

I think my favorite story is Mr. Bear. In this story, there is a bear. But this bear is somewhat of a celebrity, and he walks and talks and does pretty much everything a human does, including having sex with humans. It turns out that the bear is somewhat despicable. I can understand how a story like this can ruffle some feathers (or fur, as the case may be), but I just tell myself that it’s only a story. Complete fiction—obviously. Some of the things they do in cartoons are also somewhat despicable if you take them out of context.

These short stories may not be fully enjoyed by everyone, but if you’re game to give this book a read and you have the thick skin to accept the innards at face value, I can say without any hesitation that you’ll enjoy it!

I received a free copy of Things Get Ugly from Lone Star Book Blog Tours in exchange for my honest review. Opinions expressed are my own.

the Author

Author Joe R. Lansdale Photo

Joe R. Lansdale (Savage Season, The Donut Legion) is the internationally bestselling author of more than fifty novels, including the popular, long-running Hap and Leonard novels. Many of his cult classics have been adapted for television and film, most famously the films Bubba Ho-Tep and Cold in July and the Hap and Leonard series on Sundance TV and Netflix. Lansdale has written numerous screenplays and teleplays, including for the iconic Batman: The Animated Series. He has won an Edgar Award for The Bottoms and ten Stoker Awards, and he has been designated a World Horror Grandmaster. Lansdale, like many of his characters, lives in East Texas, with his wife, Karen.


Each receives print copies of
Things Get Ugly & Born for Trouble
(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 8/18/23)

Things Get Ugly tour giveaway graphic. Prizes to be awarded precede this image in the post text.

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