"Terror is Our Business: Dana Roberts' Casebook of Horrors" Book Review
Written by Shane D. Keene
Published by Cutting Block Books
Written by Joe R. Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale
2018, 230 pages, Fiction
Released on May 29th, 2018
I’ve been reading the work of the great Joe R. Lansdale for what will seem to some of you youngsters like an unthinkable breadth of time; pushing four decades now. He’s an author who sings to my set of interests more than almost any other, dipping his prolific pen into the wells of many genres, including western, science fiction, horror, and crime, with many of his finest works such as The Thicket, The Bottoms, and The Edge of Dark Water embracing heavy literary elements and revealing him to be one of the finest authors dark fiction to ever set his words to paper. Because Lansdale is a natural-born storyteller, the kind of guy who could sit around the cook fire regaling listeners with his quiet Texas eloquence. So color me intrigued when I learned of Terror is Our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horrors. For one thing, it’s a collaboration, something I’ve rarely seen Joe do, and that I’ve heard he’s resistant to; and for another, it’s a family coaction jointly created by him and his daughter Kasey, an ultra-talented singer-songwriter, author, and actor, to name just a few of the endeavors she’s involved with.
In Terror is Our Business, the Lansdales take on the trope of the paranormal investigator, first introducing the Dana Roberts character with four previously published yarns written by Joe, then culminating in a final three stories penned by both him and Kasey. Dana is a hard-to-like character who thinks of herself as a “supernormal” investigator, believing there are unexplained phenomena and events in this world but attributing them to some currently undiscovered science rather than anything supernatural. The thing about her is she’s by design an uptight, arrogant, and slightly snobbish person – riffing on Holmes, I think – and it is somewhat difficult to care about her until Jana comes along, adding a necessary down-to-earth counterpoint and injecting a wry sense of humor and a bit of delightfully snarky, rebellious attitude, painting the persona of Dana in a whole new light. Seeing her through the eyes of a complete polar opposite makes her somehow more knowable and relatable than she is early on in the book.
All this is not to say that the early stories are not enjoyable. Quite the opposite, in fact. From a terrifying encounter with a bloodthirsty jinn in “The Case of the Lighthouse Shambler” to an investigation of an ancient subterranean city beneath the sewers of another in “The Case of the Angry Traveler,” the book takes on familiar, tried and true themes but, in typical Lansdale fashion, completely upends them, making them something fresh and original, in the process delivering one of the creepiest haunted house tales I’ve read in “The Case of the Four Acre Haunt.” Joe is a grizzled veteran and undisputed master of the horror genre and his alacrity with a good yarn shines through in these early pieces. If they’d been penned by a lesser wordsmith, my dislike of Dana Roberts, not as character but as person, would have tempered my enjoyment of the work, but in the hands of Mr. Mojo himself, it’s nothing less than solid gold.
But the real surprise in this book comes in the last three stories. When Kasey Lansdale joins her voice to that of her father, something new and magical occurs. The introduction of Jana into the mix completely changes the tone, pacing, and mood of the whole book. “Blind Love” is a darkly humorous, terrifying introduction to the character as she unwittingly finds herself doing battle with some alien thing in an effort to save a missing friend. She brings a balance to these dark fables that was previously missing, injecting a sense of levity and slightly jaded small-town sensibilities that the more privileged Dana lacks, an offset that really comes out in the marvelous and horrifying “The Case of the Ragman’s Anguish.” You couldn’t ask for a better anchor story than this one. It’s the icing on the proverbial cake, the thing that cements this book in your memory and makes you wish it would just keep going. In this near-novella length finale, the duo head to East Texas, Jana’s old stomping grounds, where they endeavor to save a small town from a horror born of the sins of its past.
These final three pieces demonstrate that Joe isn’t the only storyteller in the Lansdale family. Kasey is an apple that didn’t fall far from the tree of creative genius and the combination of the two is a perfect pairing. Their narrative voices complement each other exceptionally well, and the snappy dialogue between the two main characters sometimes seems like the dueling riffs of two virtuoso guitarists. At the end of the first half of Terror Is Our Business: Dana Roberts' Casebook of Horrors, I would have called this a three star read, but the vocal infusion of the younger Lansdale in the back half elevates it easily into four star territory.