With Further Ado #127: 2020 – The Year of the Drive-In ..?

As the pandemic wreaked havoc on life and so many marketing promotions and businesses this past year, there was one retro-idea that gained traction: Drive-Ins.

I love Drive-Ins. We had two in my hometown growing up, and I have clear memories of seeing so many films there.  When I became a parent, I took my girls to the Drive-In once a summer. We all had a ball. I don’t remember the movies all that well, although Tom Cruise’s War of the Worlds and an Austin Powers movie come to mind.

Before Covid, Pop-Ups were becoming a hot marketing tool. It seems as if so many of the ideas behind Pop-Ups just migrated to all the 2020 Drive-ins.  And hey, as long as everyone was having fun and staying safe, it sounds good to me.

So it’s appropriate that the last book of 2020 I spotlight is all about a Drive-In: More Better Deals published by Mulholland Books.  It’s from a favorite author, Joe R. Lansdale,  and is another bumpy ride in a beat-up car on the back roads of noir fiction.

Many feel that Double Indemnity is the pinnacle of Film Noir. If you’re one of those folks, then this thriller, which has so many similarities, will lead you to inevitable and excruciatingly delicious, comparisons.

The marketing folks described this subgenre as Redneck Noir. It seems there’s something to that.  Reality shows notwithstanding,  there seems to be a lot of this out there now: Hillbilly Elegy, Ozark and even  AWA’s Grendel, Kentucky comic series.

(Grendel, Kentucky is excellent, by the way. Special thanks to Andrew (Yamu) Walsh and the gang at Comix Zone for turning me onto this one.)

This book, More Better Deals takes place in Texas, and author Lansdale is no stranger to Texas.  He’s no stranger to Drive-Ins, either. Lansdale enthusiastically drags the reader into the mud to get a better, more realistic view of the characters and the challenges they face.

I think I was first introduced to Lansdale’s writing from comics – especially Jonah Hex and Batman: The Animated Series. But I’ve enjoyed so many of his books since then, especially his Hap & Leonard series.  I even started watching the Sundance TV series adaptation of those books.  They were labelled then as “Swamp Noir”. It was sweet fun and ran for two seasons but I let many of the episodes slip by. I really should go back and finish watching it.

Lansdale seems to have learned a lesson from best-selling author William Patterson and leans heavy into the super-short chapters.  The idea, I once read, is that it helps propel the reader along. “I’ll just read one more chapter”, the reader will mentally bargain with himself or herself.  I buy that theory and that’s exactly what I found myself doing.

This one is a quick read and a riot, with lots of twists and unexpected turns – just enough so you’re reminded what a master storyteller Lansdale is.

Hope to that your 2021 is filled with great books and movies in the theaters one day soon too.