Black Hat Jack

January 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

jackBlack Hat Jack by Joe R. Lansdale

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Lansdale gives us another straight-up western, told in the usual Lansdale style. That means it’s crass and profane, though that shouldn’t stop anyone from reading it. Crass and profane is what you should expect from a Lansdale story, unless it’s written for the young’uns.

Nat Love has been a subject of interest for Lansdale for a long time, according to the afterword of this novella. He’s been working on the book that became Paradise Sky for over thirty years, because he’s felt like blacks in the Old West haven’t been given their due. Of course, the story is fiction, but Lansdale draws on enough history to flesh out the story. Aside from using Nat Love as his narrator, Lansdale also uses the Second Battle of Adobe Walls as its main plot. He brings in enough facts to satisfy the historians, and enough action to keep his story humming along. And hum it does.

Thematically, the story focuses on the brutalities that Native Americans performed on whites, but Nat acknowledges that the whites did the same to Native Americans, as well as to blacks. Toward the end, Lansdale gives us a piece of Texas history, showing how black men, even those who fought against Native Americans and saved white men and women on the way, are mistrusted and treated like animals. He also draws a divide between white and black society during that time, and shows how white people can talk and act big when they’re outside of their own group, but clam up when they’re back inside. It’s a sad take, but it makes the story more than just a shoot-’em-up western; as usual, Lansdale has something to say outside of telling us his story.

Of all the Lansdale novellas I’ve read lately, this is the best of the bunch. Without bringing up the thematic elements at the end, it would have been just another Lansdale story (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but by doing so, he elevates it above that. It touches on what made Sunset and Sawdust such a fine novel, which makes me want to read Paradise Sky as soon as possible. If he can do it in a novella, I can’t wait to see what he can do with an entire book.

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