THE BAYOU TRILOGY by Daniel Woodrell

Book Quote:

“I don’t want friends, you silly shit. Friends—hah! Friends are the ones shoot you twice in the back of the head. Friends snitch you out for the long stretches. Up the joint, you see a guy doin’ life you can figure he had one too many friends.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (APR 27, 2011)

Winter’s Bone was one of the best crime films I saw in 2010. I discovered that it was based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell, and I was surprised that I’d never heard that name before. But I’m apparently not the only one, and the success of Winter’s Bone is guaranteed to bring this author new readers. Woodrell is best known as a writer of Ozark Noir, but the Bayou Trilogy is, as the title suggests, set in a different geographical region. The trilogy is composed of three novels from Woodrell’s early writing career: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing and The Ones You Do. The protagonist of the trilogy is Cajun cop Rene Shade. Shade hails from the fictional Louisiana city of San Bruno: “a city of many neighborhoods, Frogtown and Pan Fry being the largest and most fabled, and great numbing stretches of anonymous, bland, and nearly affluent subdivisions.” These neighborhoods are sharply divided along ethnic lines with the French hanging out in Frogtown and the blacks sticking to Pan Fry. There’s also Hawthorne Hills–the wealthy impenetrable suburb of the powerful elite.

Former boxer now detective Rene Shade has French-Irish roots. His older brother Tip runs the Frogtown Catfish bar while younger brother, District Attorney Francois is trying hard to disguise his working class roots. Rene’s mother, Ma Blanqui rules a run-down pool hall, and Rene lives in a room above the family business. To add even more flavour to the local geography, a swamp, the Marias du Croche–full of water moccasins with plenty of attitude, lies on the outskirts of town. Rene’s father, John X, returns to Frogtown for the third novel in the series.

In the fast-paced, explosive action-packed tale Under The Bright Lights, a local city councilman is murdered and Rene Shade is pressured by his “superiors” to conclude that the crime was a simple burglary gone wrong, but it’s not long before all hell breaks loose with a range war between Frogtown and Pan Fry. A hired hit man with dreams of becoming a professional musician is just the tool of other ambitious, greedy men in a matter of contracts and corrupt local politics gone wrong.

Muscle for the Wing begins with a “protected” poker game being blown wide open (literally) by a violent gang known as the Wing. These ex-cons, led by a muscle-bound brute, Emil Jadick have moved into town with the intention of taking what they want and to hell with the consequences. Here’s the Wing’s first hit:

“Despite the low hum of air-conditioning, the victims sweated gushingly and shook with concern, for, not only were they being shorn of their gambling money, but history was staggering and order decaying before their eyes. The swinging side of St. Bruno night world had been run as smoothly and nearly as openly as a pizza franchise for most of a decade and now these tourists from the wrong side of the road somewhere else were demonstrating the folly of such complacence. Auguste Beaurain, the wizened little genius of regional adoration, had run the upriver dagos, the downriver riffraff, the homegrown Carpenter brothers, and the out-of-state Dixie Mafia from this town and all its profitable games in such an efficient manner that no one had truly believed he would ever again be tested this side of the pearly gates.

But here and now these strangers, too ignorant of local folklore to know how much danger they were in, were taking the test and deciding on their own grades.”

St. Bruno operates with its own customs and laws, and the reason the city doesn’t blow apart from crime and corruption is it’s controlled from the top down. So the rich white folks in Hawthorne Hills call the shots and occasionally throw a bone to a chosen few in Frogtown or Pan Fry. Everybody plays by the rules–more-or-less–although we see the sort of catastrophe that develops when someone gets greedy (Under the Bright Lights). In Muscle for the Wing, outsiders think the local muscle is soft, lazy and fat enough to be taken without much of a fight. It’s Shade’s job to stop The Wing from taking over.

The Ones You Do sees the return of Rene Shade’s father, former pool shark John X. Dumped by his young second wife who’s split with all the cash, John X returns to his roots with a pissed-off killer Lunch Pumphrey in hot pursuit.

The Bayou Trilogy is extremely violent, fast paced and the closest thing I’ve read to a pulp flick pasted onto 470 pages. There are no middle-of-road characters here. The busty, trampy babes slide into cut-offs three sizes too small, tote weapons, flip hash and are meaner than pole cats. As for the men–there’s a range of stupid, and others who are cunning, vicious or just plain evil. Woodrell can wrap up character in a nutshell. Here’s Mayor Crawford after hours in Under the Bright Lights:

He was in slacks and a polo shirt with a cherry half-robe loosely belted. Fit and silver-haired, he looked like the aging stud of a prime-time soap.

Woodrell’s Bayou world is not a place for outsiders–the author makes that clear. Only those born and bred in view of the swamp can understand the arcane rules and Cajun St Bruno philosophy of righteous violence and vengeance.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 29 readers
PUBLISHER: Mulholland Books (April 28, 2011)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Also by Daniel Woodrell:


*The Bayou Trilogy (2011)

Movies from Books:

April 28, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, Noir, Sleuths Series, US South, y Award Winning Author

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.