Bullets and Fire – Joe R Lansdale
Every now and then I read a short story compilation. They all have one thing in common: the Joe Lansdale story is always one of the stronger stories. In England, Joe is quite hard to get hold of without paying a hefty amount of cash in comparison to other books. This is the only reason I have not snapped up his books. I saw Bullets and Fire on the Kindle for under a pound and snapped it up even though it is a short story.
Dad told me once, that if people don't care about where they live, the way they act, people they associate with, they get lost in the dark, can't find their way back cause there's no light left. I had taken a pretty good step into the shadows tonight." It's payback time.
Bullets and Fire is about revenge. The opening pages introduce you to a number of unsavoury characters; none more so than the protagonist who has just violently beaten up a little girl.
Although it becomes clear that there is a reason behind this heinous act, you are left under no illusion that the protagonist is not in a good place and is not a nice guy. The act he committed was an initiation into becoming a gang member of thugs, peddling drugs. The gang think nothing of hurting innocent members of the public and regard themselves of a law unto their own.
At only 38 pages the story is too short for any real character development. You get the sense that the main character is in way over his head and does not overly belong in the criminal world. The gang members he meets are thinly sketched villains with no real sense of purpose or background. They are also unbelievable stupid. The main character clearly makes a mistake in his concocted story but they accept his rather harried and implausible explanation without too much scrutiny. I thought this might come into play later on, but sadly it didn’t.
After the initial opening scenes, the story skims over some material in order to get to the conclusion. I didn’t mind this. Sometimes in a short story you only need to read what is relevant.
The ending is great. The protagonist’s actions become apparent and I felt generally sympathetic towards him. It was clear early on, what was going to happen and that the protagonist was always going to cut a tragic figure. Without ruining the ending, I expected some sort of recompense at the end but the fact it was so meagre really illustrated how desperate the main character was.
Overall, as I mentioned in the introduction Lansdale has been a favourite short story writer of mine. Bullets and Fire strengthens my opinion.
My rating: 7.9