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A hard-hitting, critically acclaimed trilogy of crime novels from an author about whom New York magazine has written, "What people say about Cormac McCarthy ... goes double for [Woodrell]. Possibly more." In the parish of St. Bruno, sex is easy, corruption festers, and double-dealing is a way of life. Rene Shade is an uncompromising detective swimming in a sea of filth. As A hard-hitting, critically acclaimed trilogy of crime novels from an author about whom New York magazine has written, "What people say about Cormac McCarthy ... goes double for [Woodrell]. Possibly more." In the parish of St. Bruno, sex is easy, corruption festers, and double-dealing is a way of life. Rene Shade is an uncompromising detective swimming in a sea of filth. As Shade takes on hit men, porn kings, a gang of ex-cons, and the ghosts of his own checkered past, Woodrell's three seminal novels pit long-entrenched criminals against the hard line of the law, brother against brother, and two vastly different sons against a long-absent father. THE BAYOU TRILOGY highlights the origins of a one-of-a-kind author, a writer who for over two decades has created an indelible representation of the shadows of the rural American experience and has steadily built a devoted following among crime fiction aficionados and esteemed literary critics alike.


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A hard-hitting, critically acclaimed trilogy of crime novels from an author about whom New York magazine has written, "What people say about Cormac McCarthy ... goes double for [Woodrell]. Possibly more." In the parish of St. Bruno, sex is easy, corruption festers, and double-dealing is a way of life. Rene Shade is an uncompromising detective swimming in a sea of filth. As A hard-hitting, critically acclaimed trilogy of crime novels from an author about whom New York magazine has written, "What people say about Cormac McCarthy ... goes double for [Woodrell]. Possibly more." In the parish of St. Bruno, sex is easy, corruption festers, and double-dealing is a way of life. Rene Shade is an uncompromising detective swimming in a sea of filth. As Shade takes on hit men, porn kings, a gang of ex-cons, and the ghosts of his own checkered past, Woodrell's three seminal novels pit long-entrenched criminals against the hard line of the law, brother against brother, and two vastly different sons against a long-absent father. THE BAYOU TRILOGY highlights the origins of a one-of-a-kind author, a writer who for over two decades has created an indelible representation of the shadows of the rural American experience and has steadily built a devoted following among crime fiction aficionados and esteemed literary critics alike.

30 review for The Bayou Trilogy: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do

  1. 5 out of 5

    RandomAnthony

    Daniel Woodrell, in my imagination, stares at his keyboard before choosing words, like he's afraid if he uses too many he'll mess up. That literary fastidiousness pays off, with interest, in the three crime novels that comprise The Bayou Trilogy. The novels included here, republished in one volume most likely to cash in on the post-Winter's Bone publicity, revolve around the fictional neighborhood of Frogtown, a far-south run-down criminal playground with its own noir-ish rules and legends. The Daniel Woodrell, in my imagination, stares at his keyboard before choosing words, like he's afraid if he uses too many he'll mess up. That literary fastidiousness pays off, with interest, in the three crime novels that comprise The Bayou Trilogy. The novels included here, republished in one volume most likely to cash in on the post-Winter's Bone publicity, revolve around the fictional neighborhood of Frogtown, a far-south run-down criminal playground with its own noir-ish rules and legends. The local cops and criminals grew up together, and Rene Shade, of the former, bangs around town while orbiting his barkeep older brother, lawyer younger brother, pool hall owner mother, and long disappeared father. He tries to do the right thing without getting screwed by the overlapping interests of the connected lawmen and outlaws. The bayou looms in the background, a viperous, hungry beast that will swallow those unlucky enough to error within its reach. Yes. You probably know, from that last paragraph, if this trilogy is in your wheelhouse or not, and if it is, it's probably way within your wheelhouse. Woodrell and Ellroy (who gives a gushing backover blurb) walk hand in hand through this territory but differentiate in language. Ellroy jams as many words onto the page as possible while Woodrell supplies phrases at a spare, careful pace. If the two authors were in a bar together Ellroy would talk 200 miles an hour while Woodrell tossed out responses here and there but seemed generally uncomfortable and ready to go home until, after about the sixth beer, he loosened up. The first two volumes, Under The Bright Lights and Muscle For the Wing, dive headfirst into Frogtown's criminal dust and decay. In both novels outsiders disturb the culture's delicate balance. Rene Shade endeavors to restore the equilibrium. The last volume, The Ones You Do, positions Rene in the background and positions other members of the Shade family onto center stage. The trilogy totals a quick 470 pages, combined, and reads like one novel with three extended chapters. Woodrell writes his malefactors dark and desperate, and even if the banter is probably a little too bullet quick for reality, it's a hell of a lot of fun. I didn't realize Woodrell published the first volume of The Bayou Trilogy twenty-five years ago and the last nineteen years back. He's been writing for a long time. And while The Bayou Trilogy moves like the work of an author finding his voice there's a joy in hindsight when you know that eventually this talent will generate Tomato Red and Winter's Bone. While some writers' early work earns the “for fans only” label, The Bayou Trilogy is solid enough to stand on its own. Two additional points: 1) Thanks again to awesome Karen for sending the ARC my way...I owe you big time. 2) In a brief post-trilogy interview Woodrell says he's a Drive-by Truckers fan. My love is complete.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan K

    Yet another DNF to the list due to slogging pace, over use of colloquialisms and characters that lack depth, especially the protagonist. Having read many books by Southern authors, I had high hopes. Oh well on to greater things!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Catie

    I haven’t read very much that could be considered “noir” but I really enjoyed these. It was rewarding to read them in sequence, because I grew more and more attached to the characters and setting with each one. Under the Bright Lights is an introduction to Rene Shade, a lifetime resident of St. Bruno, Louisiana, and a resigned, morally ambiguous detective. He was not guided by a total love of law, but he was more for it than against it and this, he felt, made him reasonable. And that was the sum I haven’t read very much that could be considered “noir” but I really enjoyed these. It was rewarding to read them in sequence, because I grew more and more attached to the characters and setting with each one. Under the Bright Lights is an introduction to Rene Shade, a lifetime resident of St. Bruno, Louisiana, and a resigned, morally ambiguous detective. He was not guided by a total love of law, but he was more for it than against it and this, he felt, made him reasonable. And that was the summit of his aspirations. Between the neighboring communities of Pan Fry and Frogtown, there is a strict racial divide, and the gangs fight for dominance. Rene and his corpulent partner Blanchete are called in to investigate the murder of a rising star politician from Pan Fry. Both men have strong ties to Frogtown’s underbelly which complicates their involvement. This story also follows Jewel Cobb, an arrogant young patsy with murderous fantasies. In Muscle For the Wing, Shade is teamed up with a childhood friend, now thug, to catch a cop-killer. Wanda Bone Bouvier, a young, resourceful, and weary woman, finds herself in the unlikely position of gang-leader when her older husband Ronnie is incarcerated. Without a doubt, The Ones You Do is my favorite of the three. This story follows Shade’s father John X as he returns to Frogtown with Shade’s ten year old half-sister in tow, after his much younger wife runs out on him and leaves him in hot water. Noir has always seemed like a boy’s club to me. The girls are easy and none too bright, the violence is over the top, and the men are hard and embittered. Yes, I know that this is a stereotype that I need to get over. Actually this whole train of thought led me to google “female noir authors” and I will be heading your way soon, Patricia Highsmith! My point is, while some of the women in these stories fit the description from above, Daniel Woodrell never fails to make them into fully realized characters. Yes, they are indeed overly sexed and a bit on the slow side, but they are also shrewd and self-preserving, and long-suffering. Wanda Bone Bouvier is one of my favorite characters from this book. She does what she has to do, while dealing with the egos and occasional incompetence around her. She finds happiness with men as she can, but recognizes that with most she is no more than a “highly prized household convenience." Also, sometimes when I am reading an “intimate” scene featuring one of these ladies it's like I can practically feel the author leering over my shoulder. Jeez buddy, I get it! You have a rape fantasy. That’s very nice. Now, go sit in the corner, because the pages are getting so oily that the sheen is starting to blind me. Well, that never happens here. I actually felt more like Daniel Woodrell was sitting at a respectful distance, arms crossed, eyes mid roll, and saying, “Criminentlies but men are poor posturing bastards, aren’t they?” There are also about seven strong female characters (not to mention a whole handful of great male characters) in The Ones You Do. It seems really evident to me that Daniel Woodrell gets a lot of joy out of playing with words. The descriptions and dialogue in these stories are just plain fun to read. I listened to this one, and I was flat out amazed when I realized that the narrator is none other than Bronson “Balki” Pinchot! I have to warn my fellow listeners that he is an extremely slow narrator (which makes absolute sense, given the three extra syllables that every word seems to have). I think that he did a fantastic job narrating: he does great accents (ignorant northerners, French gangsters, and Bayou natives) and he does well with both male and female characters. I highly recommend the audiobook! Perfect Musical Pairing Why choose just one when I can have three? John Lee Hooker – Mad Man Blues These stories are all set near one of the Jazz capitals of the U.S., which is unfortunate because I am sadly lacking in that area. I admit that I don’t really “get” Jazz. I mean, I do like it…but my brain doesn’t explode with awesomeness when I listen to or anything. But, I can definitely appreciate Blues. I feel that the first story is the darkest of the three, and this song definitely fits the mood of it. She & Him – I Was Made For You Wanda, I think that you would enjoy this song, which is my little nod to your method of survival. Perhaps this song will also prove useful the next time you take the stage for a “narrative” strip? Arthur Alexander – Every Day I Have to Cry Some Arthur Alexander was an extremely talented song writer and performer but he never got the fame that he so deserved. This song, for me, captures the resigned and mournful tone of John X. Shade in the last story.

  4. 4 out of 5

    El

    The books that make up The Bayou Trilogy are a slight departure from Woodrell's other novels in that instead of featuring the Ozarks, these novels take place in Louisiana along the bayou. There's still the noir-aspect that one sees in Tomato Red, which I guess he coined the term "country noir" to describe his writing. I'm intrigued by that, because in the back of the edition of the trilogy is an author Q&A in which Woodrell states that he dislikes the labels given to his writing. Your style has b The books that make up The Bayou Trilogy are a slight departure from Woodrell's other novels in that instead of featuring the Ozarks, these novels take place in Louisiana along the bayou. There's still the noir-aspect that one sees in Tomato Red, which I guess he coined the term "country noir" to describe his writing. I'm intrigued by that, because in the back of the edition of the trilogy is an author Q&A in which Woodrell states that he dislikes the labels given to his writing. Your style has been described as "southern", "gothic", "country noir", or all three. If you had to classify yourself, where would you say you fit? All labels are a form of prejudice - so said Chekhov, and, as usual, he knew what he was talking about. "Regional," "gothic," "noir," "mystery" are all terms meant to segregate us from a true evaluation - no need for the literary world to even look at the work, since you are sub-literary by category, and the categories are very dumbly applied in many cases. On the surface I understand and appreciate what he said, but am baffled because he's attributed to calling his own writing "country noir", which makes me wonder if he feels like it was okay for him to label his own writing, but not okay for publishers and the public to pick up on it. Or maybe he was just having a bad day during that interview. In any case, I didn't hate these novels. Having them all together in one book makes it easy to see his growth as a writer over the however many years it took him to write the stories, though I felt that his characters only developed superficially. What the reader sees in Rene Shade, the good guy/bad guy cop, from the first book to the third where he barely even makes an appearance makes me feel that the only real growth he made was the growth made by the author himself. The first book was rough around the edges, which isn't to say it's a bad thing, but it's evident Woodrell wasn't entirely sure the direction the story was going to take. The second book started to come together and I found some of the characters (Wanda specifically) fantastically written. The third book, while it maintained some of the vivid descriptions as the second book, was sort of too busy trying to bring it all to a conclusion and tie up loose ends. I continue to like the noir aspect of Woodrell's writing, and it's what keeps me coming back for more. Will continue working my way up to Winter's Bone. Since it's the one that most people have raved about the most and have told me I'll like most of all, I want it to be the last one I read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    This was like one of those cakes that has all the right ingredients, and sounds so delicious, but you overcook it and botch up the measurements and all those ingredients combine into something so unholy and so... not delicious. I don’t know. Despite appearances, this was not on my wavelength at all. Everyone here knew they were in this gritty noir and were so smug about it and nobody acted just plain human without all these affectations (ugh) that got in the way of the story. I wanted to sink St This was like one of those cakes that has all the right ingredients, and sounds so delicious, but you overcook it and botch up the measurements and all those ingredients combine into something so unholy and so... not delicious. I don’t know. Despite appearances, this was not on my wavelength at all. Everyone here knew they were in this gritty noir and were so smug about it and nobody acted just plain human without all these affectations (ugh) that got in the way of the story. I wanted to sink St. Bruno in the swamp. Lock, stock, and barrel, and on fire to boot, and believe me, for all the places like St. Bruno I’ve loved that’s a first for me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    **Under the Bright Lights** Here is how Daniel Woodrell distinguishes his crime fiction from the multitude: "The pecking order of the homegrown juice merchants and trigger jerkers, green-felt Caesars, and snow-shoveling cowboys was likened to a vivid Chicago of the memory. And in this urban simile, if Auguste Beaurain, a force so devious, potent, and dangerous that he'd never even been hooked for a parking ticket, was a scaled-down Capone, and Steve Roque an irritating Spike O'Donnell, then surely **Under the Bright Lights** Here is how Daniel Woodrell distinguishes his crime fiction from the multitude: "The pecking order of the homegrown juice merchants and trigger jerkers, green-felt Caesars, and snow-shoveling cowboys was likened to a vivid Chicago of the memory. And in this urban simile, if Auguste Beaurain, a force so devious, potent, and dangerous that he'd never even been hooked for a parking ticket, was a scaled-down Capone, and Steve Roque an irritating Spike O'Donnell, then surely Sundown Philips of Pan Fry was perfectly Bugs Moran." Crime fiction abounds with urban simile, and Woodrell is very talented at spinning his own. He sketches the bayou setting with language that makes you feel the heat ("The inside of the car was still baking hot, and everything liquid in him seemed to be dripping down his neck."). He writes dialog that rings true enough to draw you in. He constructs a plot that pivots on credible renditions of vanity, greed, weakness, passion, and folly. He writes like he knows these people and their ways, and that he has a story worth reading. I look forward to reading more of his stories. **Muscle for the Wing** Much as I enjoyed "Under the Bright Lights," I turned the last page feeling like Woodrell could have put a little more flesh and bone on protagonist Rene Shade. In "Muscle" he does so by teaming Shade up with a childhood friend who turned towards crime while Shade went cop. Together, the two are supposed to represent the law and the local mob in the search for an errant gang that's been rolling some of the mob's high-stakes gambling outfits. The partnership is tenuous and trying on Shade, who still feels connected to deeds and friends that are contrary to his chosen profession. Through flashback and brief character sketches, Woodrell opens a door into Shade's head and shines the light on details and experiences that add significant weight to his character, and to the story as a whole. To call these crime tales is to anticipate a certain neatness of execution that Woodrell does not in fact employ in his storytelling. There is a caper in this story, and there are perps, and there are cops who do pick up the scent and start to follow its trail, but the events that follow this setup do not fit together with the same rigor that many authors bring to the genre. The crime that Woodrell writes about is too pervasive to escape or contain, too tough a stain to wash out with high minded principles or noble intentions. There may be straight people in the Louisiana town that Woodrell has created, but Shade and his blood and everyone else he is connected to are not these. And when that last page falls and the tale comes to a close, the greys and blues are just that much darker, and that much more mixed with every other shade of color. **The Ones You Do** The third book to feature the denizens of St. Bruno hardly features Detective Rene Shade at all. Instead, most of the limelight falls on his father, John X., who makes his way back to St. Bruno by way of a string of misfortunes; and upon John's history, itself a collection of more misfortunes and misadventures that the subject himself looks back upon sans negative prefixes, despite greeting each day with smoker's lungs and the DTs. Woodrell writes an incredible passage describing such an episode: John X. set the empty glass on the floor next to the couch. He patted his T-shirt where a cigarette pocket would hang on a button shirt, then grunted. On many mornings of late he could recall a ten-line conversation or a stolen kiss from back in 1949 in every detail, but could not find his cigarettes. He always seemed to be waking up in new spots for one thing, plus, those old acts and conversations came into his head so clearly that he sometimes wrung new meanings from them. Quite a few of the nuances and long silences that had baffled at the time now offered themselves up for interpretation in retrospect. They surely did. But that did not solve the real issue, which was, where'd I leave those smokes? History and family are the threads that stitch everything together in this tale, and Woodrell guides his gifted prose through past deeds and present woes with a sure hand while keeping the final destination well-hidden. "The Ones You Do" is a collection of conversations between people who have lived and lost and now wonder; of moments that bring back the past while pulling the present forward into painful relief; of the young learning from the old, and the old seeing something they once knew in the young; of sons and fathers sharing whiskey and small talk while passing up unasked questions and unfound answers. It is a remarkable book, and I shall long remember it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael Twist

    Woodrell introduces us to a passel of lurid characters that never fail to entertain. He runs the fine satirical line between mocking them and making these characters real and relatable. Demonstrating a thorough understanding of the Bayou's seedy underside, Woodrell crafts fascinating stories that lead you down a path you know rarely ends well, but can't help but treading anyway. Woodrell introduces us to a passel of lurid characters that never fail to entertain. He runs the fine satirical line between mocking them and making these characters real and relatable. Demonstrating a thorough understanding of the Bayou's seedy underside, Woodrell crafts fascinating stories that lead you down a path you know rarely ends well, but can't help but treading anyway.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    "...there was Frogtown, the white-trash Paris, where the wide brown flow of rank water scented all the days, and everfy set of toes touched bottom." Flecks of dried blood and dirt stick equal in Woodrell’s look at small town where multiple criminal entities thrive on their unlawful activities. The down trodden and hopeless sense of conformance with poverty is delivered in poetic-like fashion. Equal billing to the just and unjust alike is given throughout the trilogy to paint a picture perfect gli "...there was Frogtown, the white-trash Paris, where the wide brown flow of rank water scented all the days, and everfy set of toes touched bottom." Flecks of dried blood and dirt stick equal in Woodrell’s look at small town where multiple criminal entities thrive on their unlawful activities. The down trodden and hopeless sense of conformance with poverty is delivered in poetic-like fashion. Equal billing to the just and unjust alike is given throughout the trilogy to paint a picture perfect glimpse at ‘criminalities’. "I've been poor so long it doesn't bother me anymore, and that's as much peace of mind as a Rockerfeller's got." Woodrell writes in a language so few can emulate. His voice is distinct yet similar enough to evoke a sense of modernised noir. Aside from Megan Abbott, I can’t think of another author who comes close. His works within country noir are better delivered yet the tone and prose of ‘The Bayou Trilogy’ remain true, to a certain extent, of the formula. Opening with a police procedural in ‘Under The Bright Lights’ Woodrell introduces Shade – a cop (and former boxer), a DA, and a criminally affiliated barman – brothers who provide an interesting mix which could’ve been exploited further over the course of the proceeding books. Called in to investigate the shooting of a black politician made out to be a case of robbery gone badly, Shade soon learns of cover-ups and hidden agendas. Given the opportunity to tote the company line or play it honest, Shade is forced to make a decision damning him either way. ‘Under The Bright Lights’ was a decent enough read which hinted at the hallmarks of a Woodrell noir yet focusing on the more procedural aspects of the story. ‘Muscle for the Wing’ offers up more of the same in a sense that the story is part police procedural and part criminal POV. The second of the Shade books did little to highlight the unique family ties of the three professionally distinct brothers and could be read well as a stand alone. This both pleased and annoyed me. I think I would’ve liked to have read this aside from the trilogy – as I read it in this collection I was hoping for more continuity than what Woodrell presented. 'The Ones You Do' encapsulated that heavy character driven story Woodrell is most known for in 'Tomato Red' and 'Winter's Bone' where the emphasis isn't on a crime itself, rather the repercussions and the victim/instigator's reaction directly following. John X. father to the Shade brothers is a girfter always on the look out for a quick score. In returning to Frogtown, he’s not only brought with him his young daughter but that of raging madman hell bent on revenge. What follows is an interesting family dynamic as John X gets reacquainted with his sons while keeping his more nefarious activities completely aside. ‘The Ones You Do’ was the best in the trilogy – definite re-read appeal. Overall, I was a little disappointed with ‘The Bayou Trilogy’. I was hoping for more country noir than police procedural (re: the first two books) and while ‘The Ones You Do’ redeemed the collection I was left wanting more. The Shade brothers were well written and had the capacity to form a unique story in their own right, I only wish Woodrell had put his talents towards those three accompanied by a plot which infused their respective professions and pitted them against one another. That said, I still enjoyed ‘The Bayou Trilogy’ but I’d be recommending new readers towards Woodrell’s other books prior to picking this one up. 3 stars.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    Rene Shade is a detective in the Parish of St. Bruno, Louisiana. However, as a series, this is not really a detective story. In the beginning we focus on a man (Shade) who straddles the fence of legality in a town where he is both a former local celebrity as a boxer and a longtime acquaintance and relation to most of the seedy underside of St. Bruno. Gritty and callous as he is, Shade has a sense of honor unassailable by friendship or blood, and he finds himself the odd man out in most situation Rene Shade is a detective in the Parish of St. Bruno, Louisiana. However, as a series, this is not really a detective story. In the beginning we focus on a man (Shade) who straddles the fence of legality in a town where he is both a former local celebrity as a boxer and a longtime acquaintance and relation to most of the seedy underside of St. Bruno. Gritty and callous as he is, Shade has a sense of honor unassailable by friendship or blood, and he finds himself the odd man out in most situations. From the first chapters, Shade grows from a hard-nosed cop running from the ghosts of his childhood, his defunct boxing career, and his dead-beat father, into a man of greater tenderness and understanding. With every new character we are given new insight into Shade's history and persona, and it seems that he benefits from this insight, as well. By the second book, Shade's darker side has reared its head, which coincides with his most direct clash with "the powers-that be", and he has deadly decisions to make. Whose side can you take when the law asks you to ride shotgun (literally) with a mobster looking for retribution? At the same time, Shade has begun a serious relationship with Nicole, and wants little more than to escape with her from the drama of his hometown. As book number three opens, we find ourselves following the heretofore legendary John X. Shade, Rene Shade's absent father, and also the father of his brothers Tip and Francois. John X. brings an awful lot of baggage back to St. Bruno, including his strange daughter, Etta, but this is the first time when we feel the wholeness of the Shade family. The character of Rene takes a bit of a back seat to John X. and Etta, Nicole, his mother Monique and even a man with an ancient grudge against John X., but it is clear that this is because of the fulfillment that Rene is feeling as his family comes together. Never fear though, for nothing is ever truly settled on the bayou of St. Bruno. The series ends, not as we think it will, not as we want it to, but as it should. I received this book for free through Goodreads First-Reads. Thanks.

  10. 4 out of 5

    H. P.

    Daniel Woodrell who coined the term “country noir,” and he has always exemplified a certain country noir ethos, going back to his earliest work. The Bayou Trilogy was a conscious attempt to combine what he learned at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, pulp detective story sensibilities, and his mom’s French-American river culture heritage. Woodrell’s earlier work fell out of print before he hit it big with the movie adaptation of Winter’s Bone. That success led Mulholland Books to put out an omnibus col Daniel Woodrell who coined the term “country noir,” and he has always exemplified a certain country noir ethos, going back to his earliest work. The Bayou Trilogy was a conscious attempt to combine what he learned at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, pulp detective story sensibilities, and his mom’s French-American river culture heritage. Woodrell’s earlier work fell out of print before he hit it big with the movie adaptation of Winter’s Bone. That success led Mulholland Books to put out an omnibus collecting his debut trilogy, consisting of Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do. I consumed it in audiobook form, as narrated by Bronson Pinchot. All three books are set in the fictional St. Bruno and feature city police detective Rene Shade. Country noir should have a great sense of place, even if that place is fictional, and the Bayou Trilogy has it in spades. St. Bruno is a river town, upriver on the might Mississippi from New Orleans (as best I can tell it is heavily based on St. Charles, Missouri, but is considerably further downriver). It is big enough to be called a city, not big enough to be called major. I love the description from copy: “In the parish of St. Bruno, sex is easy, corruption festers, and double-dealing is a way of life.” Corruption in city hall and the police department plays an important role in the first two books. Adding at least a veneer of fictionality opens up the door for worldbuilding, and Woodrell takes advantage. He could have written stories set in St. Bruno for the rest of his life if he hadn’t lost interest. Like any good and segregated American city, St. Bruno has its districts. Most important for the trilogy is Frogtown, home to the city’s lower class residents of French origin. Rene Shade is out of Frogtown. He is a Frogtown native, a former boxer, and a cop torn between one brother who is a dirty bartender and another brother who is a slightly less dirty district attorney). His background makes him both valuable and untrustworthy in the eyes of the brass. There is a similar duality to how he is viewed by the residents of Frogtown. He is both one of them, someone they knew as a kid, know his dad’s nefarious exploits back in the day, know what kind of patron patronizes his brother’s bar. But he is also not one of them, a cop, an external oppressive force. Rene himself, of course, feels pulled in two directions. More than two directions. Frogtown social norms with more local weight than the law. The take-what-you-can ethos of his father and all the other crooks he spent his whole life around. The unyielding demands of justice. The political demands of a corrupt department. How Rene balances among the pull of those competing forces, and the commitments he makes to one set of interests over another, form the core through line of the trilogy. UNDER THE BRIGHT LIGHTS I’ve long been of the view that you can set a country noir in the city. After all, cities are full of folks from the country. For all the talk of Rene above, he sorts of sneaks in through the backdoor in Under the Bright Lights. We’re first introduced to Jewel Cobb, a dirt road bandit enticed to the bright lights of the city by the promise of easy money. His criminal christening in St. Bruno culminated in a hit that goes wrong, as they do. That hit is connected to another, this one on black man on the city council. With its pulp noir and hardboiled influences, the plot of Under the Bright Lights is suitably baroque and twisted in two to three ways. Jewel Cobb and the convoluted plot were both big selling points for me, as were the various slightly higher level crooks and pols attempting to pull strings (with some confusion over who is who). Under the Bright Lights also benefits from the best climax of the trilogy by far, a bloody, tense scene deep in a dark swamp. 4.5 of 5 Stars. MUSCLE FOR THE WING The events of Muscle for the Wing are precipitated by out of town thugs hitting a card game. The robbery upsets both the political and criminal establishments in St. Bruno. The thugs are part of a prison outfit called the Wing, hence the title. The story of how they got there is suitably convoluted. Rene plays a bigger role here. He gets tapped by the brass to get to the bottom of things. It becomes apparent that this is the sort of thing that could get one in the brass himself . . . or facedown in a sluggish bayou. To solve the problem, whether by means legal or extralegal, he is paired not with his old partner (another highlight of Under the Bright Lights) but instead with Shuggie, an old buddy from Frogtown and lieutenant to the local kingpin. Shuggie is a highlight, but the other criminal characters don’t quite hold up to those of Under the Bright Lights. Woodrell also ends the book too abruptly. Listening to the omnibus audiobook, I was briefly confused when the next book started. If I learned a chapter or two mistakenly got cut, I wouldn’t be surprised. 4 of 5 Stars. THE ONES YOU DO There is a clear trend across the trilogy, but The Ones You Do marks the sharpest departure from the other two. It is only sort of tangentially a crime novel. The plot powers into motion when John X Shade’s girlfriend steals $47k, leaving him and their daughter holding the bag. If that name sounds familiar, it is because John X is Rene’s daddy (and Tip’s and Francois’s). His flight from ready pistolero Lunch, erstwhile owner of the $47k, leads him back to St. Bruno and the family he had long abandoned. The Ones You Do departs from many of the tropes of the first two books. There are no politics. Rene is barely a cop, on suspension for the entirety of the novel. Lunch is a great villain, and there is an absolutely bonkers sequence involving two tourists from Nebraska (or maybe Iowa . . . somewhere in corn country). But, again, this is barely a crime novel. It is much more introspective than the first two books, more a family drama. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t a great family drama, and literary merit simply isn’t mutually exclusive with pulp entertainment. The climax is again unsatisfying, albeit in a different way than Muscle for the Wing. Where that book ends before the story is quite over, the ending here mostly just fizzles, although there is a literary logic to it I can appreciate on some level. The Ones You Do is surely the most satisfying of the three to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop crowd, which almost necessarily makes it the weakest book in the trilogy. 3.5 of 5 Stars. AUDIO NARRATION Audiobooks are a new affliction for me, and The Bayou Trilogy was my first foray into country noir on tape. (Figuratively speaking. Cassette tape would certainly be a more appropriate vehicle for this sort of tale than streaming via smartphone app.) I’ve been leery of listening to a country noir. Voice is so important for the subgenre, and for an audiobook that means literal voice. It helps here, I think, that most of the characters have French, not hillbilly, backgrounds. It also helps that I was able to pick up three books for one Audible credit. All three books are voiced by Bronson Pinchot. Pinchot is most famous for playing Balki on Perfect Strangers (I loved that show), but he has a pretty robust career as an audiobook narrator in addition to his acting and home rehab-salvage work. He performs ably, if unevenly. Woodrell’s prose leaves ample room for flair in narration, and Pinchot responds with great gusto. His rendition of Shuggie’s dialogue in Muscle for the Wing is a particular highlight. I’ve listened to several audiobooks now with both male and female narrators, and a common thread is that the narrator struggles more with the voices for the opposite sex. That remains true here. Every female character Pinchot voices sounds like a great slab of a woman who spends her days pinning down a couch in front of a singlewide trailer. Its ill-suited for a character like Wanda Bone Bouvier, the femme fatale from Muscle for the Wing. A woman like that needs a little smoke in her voice.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Pati

    Better than Cormac McCarthy, for sure, but not that great. I don't know in which Louisiana town Woodrell did his research, but none of them I know has black, white, and Cajun neighborhoods. Not many houses have basements, either. The plot reminds me of Donna Tartt (very suspenseful). But the details get in the way. I couldn't take it anymore. Read the first story, but couldn't stomach the next two. Ugh. Better than Cormac McCarthy, for sure, but not that great. I don't know in which Louisiana town Woodrell did his research, but none of them I know has black, white, and Cajun neighborhoods. Not many houses have basements, either. The plot reminds me of Donna Tartt (very suspenseful). But the details get in the way. I couldn't take it anymore. Read the first story, but couldn't stomach the next two. Ugh.

  12. 4 out of 5

    John Hood

    Bound: Down on the Bayou SunPost Weekly May 19, 2011 | John Hood http://bit.ly/iorBrr Daniel Woodrell Writes the Lives Behind its Crimes As the Atchafalaya River Basin begins to flood one can’t help thinkin’ that maybe the authorities have read Daniel Woodrell and come away believin’ the folks who live in that swampy stretch of nowhere don’t deserve saving as much as everybody else. That’s a mean thing to consider, of course, let alone to say right out loud for everyone to hear. But had you just w Bound: Down on the Bayou SunPost Weekly May 19, 2011 | John Hood http://bit.ly/iorBrr Daniel Woodrell Writes the Lives Behind its Crimes As the Atchafalaya River Basin begins to flood one can’t help thinkin’ that maybe the authorities have read Daniel Woodrell and come away believin’ the folks who live in that swampy stretch of nowhere don’t deserve saving as much as everybody else. That’s a mean thing to consider, of course, let alone to say right out loud for everyone to hear. But had you just waded through Woodrell’s wrenchingly-drenched tales of the Zeus-forsaken place, well, it’s a cinch you’d get that notion your own self. Why? Because the people Woodrell writes into being are about as mean and as nasty a bunch that have ever been put to page. And that’s saying something indeed. My cruel supposition is based on a collection called The Bayou Trilogy (Mulholland Books $16.99), which takes three of Woodrell’s first four books and puts ‘em into one heaping helping of unmitigated ugly. Individually the tales are Under the Bright Lights (1986), Muscle for the Wing (‘88) and The Ones You Do (‘92). When each was initially released, writers as wily as John D. MacDonald, James Ellroy and Barry Gifford stepped up and sang their respective praises. And they, in turn, were joined by a chorus of critics who couldn’t find a thing to criticize about Woodrell’s work, but found all kinds of reasons to believe in it. Since then there have been awards (including a ‘96 PEN USA for Tomato Red; an ‘08 Edgar for “Uncle”), and a slew of New York Times Notable Books, among them ‘06’s Winter’s Bone, which was made into the same-named flick that earned four Oscar nominations and a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. A few years back director Ang Lee made screen of Woodrell too, turning ‘87’s Woe to Live On into ‘09’s Ride with the Devil. And if that’s not enough to put the man among a rather lofty roster of wordslingers, then there’s not enough of anything for anyone. In the Trilogy, Woodrell wrings the neck of a Cajun outpost called St. Bruno, where blood runs thick with consequence and spills even quicker. The, er, heroes of these tall tales are a family fittingly named Shade, who might walk both sides of the law but remain most at home among the lawless. The patriarch, John X., is a rambling man whose beautiful Babushka pool cue rarely gets him outta the trouble his big mouth has asked for. Even when he’s nowhere around (which is mostly), Daddy Shade shadows over most everything, be it with an unhealthy mix of legend or an echo of some absurd (but often telling) barroom philosophy. To John X. it’s all “stragedy,” which will give you some idea of his life’s trajectory. John X.’s ex also has a thing for the felt, and she lords over Ma Blanqui’s Pool House with a bewitching boldness that would scare the be-Jesus outta decent folk. Then again, if there ever were any so-called decent folk in St. Bruno (which is doubtful), they’d’ve left long ago. So it’s unlikely the image of Momma Shade’s ankle-length locks really bother anyone. Those potentially terrifying tresses certainly don’t bother any one of her three sons. In fact, second son Rene, who lives atop the Pool House, watches the slate gray mess cascade around his momma’s ankles nearly every night with nary a disparaging word. Though his seldom being sober enough to talk might have something to do with it too. When Rene’s not drunk, he’s usually working on it at his elder brother Tip’s Catfish Bar. The Catfish is where all of French Town’s mischief makers mingle. Since Rene happens to be a detective, it’s possible he considers his sidling up to the bar simply a matter of good police work. It certainly puts him in the thick of many nefarious things. By the same token, pretty much any spot in St. Bruno is thick with nefarious things. Not to mention nefarious people. St. Bruno’s the kinda town where one-legged women wear t-shirts that say “I Can’t Help It If I’m Lucky,” and where to ‘have it all’ means “having a door jimmy, a friendly fence, and a ten-minute headstart.” It’s where not having a prison record means a lack of ambition. And not holding a grudge shows a distinct shortage of feelings. Hell, this is the sorta place where even the swamp is Crooked. In Woodrell’s hands however, it’s also where “honesty can siphon off a few regrets and resentments if you tap into it.” And the bleak and burdened picture he paints of this place and its people can only be considered brutally honest. How else to explain features as unforgiving as a blood feud and creatures less becoming than bad luck? Naturally there’s more to these stories than sheer portraiture — much more. But I don’t dig spoiling surprise by giving away narrative. I will tell you that these are crime stories, which reviewers have taken to calling “country noir.” If you know about crime, and you know about noir, then you’ll know that in the end nobody makes out good. And I mean nobody. If you want some idea of how Woodrell reads, the opening of line of Muscle for the Wing will give it to you straight: “Wishing to avoid any risk of a snub at The Hushed Hill Country Club, the first thing that Emil Jadick shoved through the door was double-barreled and loaded.” And if that doesn’t spell the start of something ugly, well, there’s no such thing as an alphabet.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Larissa

    Review published on Reviewing the Evidence website in August: http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/r... Although Daniel Woodrell has been earning the respect of critics and cultivating a devoted fan base for quite some time, his self-coined “country noir” novels have garnered renewed attention in the last year, thanks to the astounding success of the movie adaptation of his 2006 novel Winter's Bone. This spring, three of Woodrell’s early novels—starring his shambling Creole detective Rene Shade—ha Review published on Reviewing the Evidence website in August: http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/r... Although Daniel Woodrell has been earning the respect of critics and cultivating a devoted fan base for quite some time, his self-coined “country noir” novels have garnered renewed attention in the last year, thanks to the astounding success of the movie adaptation of his 2006 novel Winter's Bone. This spring, three of Woodrell’s early novels—starring his shambling Creole detective Rene Shade—have been republished as The Bayou Trilogy, and are sure to gain the author even more acclaim for their cinematic, gritty, and occasionally poetic portrayals of the perpetually backsliding town of St. Bruno, Louisiana. Woodrell fills St. Bruno with a colorful cast of downtrodden men and women for whom double-dealing and neighborhood loyalty are a way of life. Foremost are the Shade family, who play pivotal roles in all three novels in the trilogy. There’s Ma Blanqui, owner of the pool hall where her itinerant husband, John X., had once made a name for himself before he abandoned her and her three boys. The oldest of the brothers, Tip Shade, owns the Catfish Bar, whose clientele make a habit of avoiding the police. The youngest, Francois, is an up-and-coming District Attorney. And right in the middle is Rene, a failed boxer turned cop who treads a fine line between the law-abiding and criminal worlds of his family and hometown. Under the Bright Lights opens, as do all of the novels in the trilogy, on an over-confident, back country hood who is already in over his head, although he doesn’t know it yet. Woodrell’s first line introduction of this young would-be hit man provides the reader with a succinct initiation into the dark, subtly mocking humor, drawling dialog, and simmering violence that characterize all of the author’s work. “Jewel Cobb,” we’re told, “had long been a legendary killer in his midnight reveries and now he’d come to the big town to prove that his upright version knew the same techniques and was just as cold.” Muscle for the Wing, the second novel in the trilogy, finds Rene rekindling the soured friendships of his past in order to track down the killer of a local policeman who worked as a guard for underground poker games frequented by some of St. Bruno's most powerful men. The Ones You Do introduces Shade's infamous ne'er-do-well father, John X. Shade, who is on the run with his adolescent daughter (Rene's half sister) after her momma ran off with a local gangster's fortune. The novels are all very similar—especially in tone and pacing—which can lend to monotony if read in quick succession. Woodrell's plotting is also a bit shaky: in particular, the racially-charged murder and political scandal in Under the Bright Lights quickly becomes muddled and its resolution is a bit over-determined. But plot is really a secondary concern here. Woodrell has a spot-on ear for the patois of his bayou residents and a gift for characterization that extends into the psyches and pasts of both his anti-heroes and their adversaries. Each of the novels in the trilogy opens at a running start, and Woodrell keeps up the constant, frenetic pace throughout the books. The stories all unfold over the course of a few days, and are staged in a series of iconic locales: the Marais de Croche swamp, underground poker games, a strip club on the edge of town, an elegant and crumbling cathedral. It's no wonder that two of Woodrell's novels have been made into movies (prior to Winter's Bone his book Woe to Live On was adapted by Ang Lee). Reading his novels, one can easily imagine watching them unfold on screen.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    "This was Frogtown, where the sideburns were longer, the fuses shorter, the skirts higher and expectations lower, and he loved it" On the steamy and seedy shores of the Louisiana Bayou, Detective Rene Shade walks a fine line between law and loyalty in Saint Bruno where he was born and raised. This trilogy combines three loosely connected stories of crime and justice in the shadows of Frogtown and Pan Fry. The first story, Under the Bright Lights, has Shade, and his partner How Blanchette, investi "This was Frogtown, where the sideburns were longer, the fuses shorter, the skirts higher and expectations lower, and he loved it" On the steamy and seedy shores of the Louisiana Bayou, Detective Rene Shade walks a fine line between law and loyalty in Saint Bruno where he was born and raised. This trilogy combines three loosely connected stories of crime and justice in the shadows of Frogtown and Pan Fry. The first story, Under the Bright Lights, has Shade, and his partner How Blanchette, investigating the murder of a city councilman. The Mayor would be happiest if the whole business could be blamed on a trigger happy burglar, but it's not how Shade sees it going. The Councillor's death seems to be linked to a power play in the criminal underbelly that is in danger of triggering a war. Shade chases his suspects right into an armed confrontation in the middle of the Marais du Croche, a swamp beset by lethal cottonmouths and hungry crocodiles. Muscle of the Wing partners a reluctant Detective Shade with a boyhood friend, Shuggie Zeck, whose business interests are being devalued by a mysterious gang of hold up men. In a town where payback and kickbacks grease the system for politicians and criminals alike, Shade can read between the lines of his Captains orders. This investigation isn't about justice so much as vengeance. In The Ones You Do (Criminentlies), Detective Shade is brooding over his 90-day suspension when his father, the legendary John X Shade returns to the city with a daughter and annoyed ex associates in tow. This tale features the Shade family, itself a microcosm of the environment they live in. These eccentric characters underscore the themes of loyalty, redemption and belonging that flow through the trilogy. Daniel Woodrell envelops the reader with his atmospheric depiction of the steaming, soiled bayou and it's unique characters. His style is vividly descriptive, and its a surprising pleasure to immerse yourself in the gritty underbelly of his world. The heat, the sweat, the fear become almost tangible with his eloquent turn of phrase. The language he uses has a cultural lilt, wit and earthiness that defines his characterisation. There is a sense of raw authenticity in Woodrell's examination of the realities of life in Saint Bruno and he captures the indistinct boundaries for those that dwell in the less respectable area's of society masterfully. Far from being a one dimensional character representing the law, Detective Rene Shade is a skillfully drawn character of principle and personal conflict. Throughout the trilogy, Woodrell reveals the flaws and strengths that define Shade. He is a nuanced character who is engaging and likeable. Shade is surrounded by family, friends and enemies, the ordinary and the eccentric. Eldest brother Tip, runs a drinking dive named The Catfish while youngest brother, Frankie is a lawyer. Their father, John X Shade is a pool hustling legend who is defined by his absence. Shade has grown up in the town he now polices and his childhood friends are as likely to be his enemies as his informants. Woodrell's characters are all boldly drawn with attention to detail and credibility. Wonderfully written and an engrossing read, Woodrell has a gift for story and prose. The Bayou Trilogy is an atmospheric, brash and exciting adventure through the nadir of the criminal underbelly in the deep south, and I look forward to reading more by this author.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Peck

    I don't often read 'crime novels' - not out of disdain, but because of personal taste. I've read and been engrossed by a few Denis Lehane books, but I probably wouldn't have opened them at all if they weren't set in Boston, with landmarks I know so well. I decided to try Daniel Woodrell after watching the film of 'Winter's Bone' and reading some not-so-faint critical praise. And now this fanboy wants to read everything he's published. UNDER THE BRIGHT LIGHTS (1982) - Woodrell's body of work is s I don't often read 'crime novels' - not out of disdain, but because of personal taste. I've read and been engrossed by a few Denis Lehane books, but I probably wouldn't have opened them at all if they weren't set in Boston, with landmarks I know so well. I decided to try Daniel Woodrell after watching the film of 'Winter's Bone' and reading some not-so-faint critical praise. And now this fanboy wants to read everything he's published. UNDER THE BRIGHT LIGHTS (1982) - Woodrell's body of work is set mostly within the Ozarks (his home), but his first novel and its 2 follow-ups are set in the fictional Louisiana town of St. Bruno, which is more akin to True Blood's Bontemps than New Orleans (I imagine). It's a sultry riverside burg teeming with gambling, alcoholism, and the general seediness that spawns noir stories. The marvelously-named protagonist is Detective Rene Shade, a local boy from the French neighborhood (Frogtown) who yearns to transcend the corruption in his department. These elements are familiar, of course, but Woodrell's prose is like a nimble electric piano solo and the sense of place is so vivid you can smell it. The character names and physical descriptions are the most memorable I've read outside of Annie Proulx "[he] had the complete barnyard of personal characteristics: ox-sized, goose-necked, cow-eyed, a hog gut, probably mule-headed, and clearly goaty of appetite." This story details the events stemming from the murder of an African-American councilman and ends with a mythic showdown in a dark swamp. MUSCLE FOR THE WING (1988) - The sequel is quick and vicious, telling the story of a prison gang's run of poker-game robberies in the region, some of said poker games involving the movers and shakers of St. Bruno. Woodrell's words continue to compel, even though this installment gets a bit TOO bleak and depraved at times. THE ONES YOU DO (1992) - The conclusion to the trilogy is the best, a near-masterpiece centering on the sudden return of Rene Shade's long-absent father John X.- a former poolroom hustler and ladies man - along with a 10-year-old daughter. This is less of a crime potboiler and more of a serio-comic rural drama with some surprising and grotesque elements (again, like acknowledged Woodrell fan Annie Proulx). The characters are lively and unforgettable, and the set pieces grand. One chapter involving a psychopath, a couple from Iowa, and a day out together in Natchez, Mississippi could stand on its own as a great short story. I never though I'd complete a gritty crime trilogy and immediately miss the characters and their lives. How about a cable TV series? (The Shades?)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michele Weiner

    I have read many gritty books in my time, and I can enjoy a hard-boiled tale of the less fortunate classes. Tana French's Faithful Place about a working class neighborhood in Dublin had a wonderful sense of place and a well-constructed plot. The Fighter also provided a window into a specific place and time, and a group of characters who came alive, who were fascinating and complete, and sympathetic on some level. Bayou Trilogy portrays the same kind of working class neighborhood that people don' I have read many gritty books in my time, and I can enjoy a hard-boiled tale of the less fortunate classes. Tana French's Faithful Place about a working class neighborhood in Dublin had a wonderful sense of place and a well-constructed plot. The Fighter also provided a window into a specific place and time, and a group of characters who came alive, who were fascinating and complete, and sympathetic on some level. Bayou Trilogy portrays the same kind of working class neighborhood that people don't easily leave and where most are involved in semi-legal activities, or have friends or relatives who are. But there was no character to admire, as in The Fighter, or plot to keep you going, as in Faithful Place. The folks of the Bayou Trilogy reside in a fictional river town which might be on the Mississippi, but might not. There is a bayou nearby in which scary night-time chases can take place, and there are neighborhoods which keep the various classes separated. The affluent have the high ground, the black persons live in Pan Fry, and the white trash, who all have French surnames, live in the wet, undesirable land down by the dirty river in a neighborhood called Frogtown. The denizens of every part of town are despicable in their own ways. Even the hero, a police detective, is unattractive. He has the requisite relatives, the expected character flaws, and a partner who is fat and funny in an ugly way, and there is a girlfriend who is good-looking enough and semi-tough. But it feels very much like a formula and there is no significant attempt at character development. The plot of the one story I finished was muddled and pointless in my opinion. I didn't get why it was written and I found it impossible to become involved with either the good guys or the bad guys. When the second in the trilogy involved a similar type of violent sociopath, gratuitous violence, drug abuse and binge drinking, I decided I had better things to do. I was persuaded to try Bayou Trilogy when I found it was on President Obama's list of summer reading. I bet he didn't like it either.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Overall, 3 stars. This was an interesting study in the life of the Bayou, focused on Officer Rene Shade and his friends and family. The first two books were pretty good, with Officer Shade solving a couple of crimes. With the third book, the author completely lost any semblance of a plot and it turned into almost a soap opera. The only saving grace was the narration expertly performed by Bronson Pinchot. If I didn't know otherwise, I would have guessed he's from Rural Louisiana. Under the Bright Overall, 3 stars. This was an interesting study in the life of the Bayou, focused on Officer Rene Shade and his friends and family. The first two books were pretty good, with Officer Shade solving a couple of crimes. With the third book, the author completely lost any semblance of a plot and it turned into almost a soap opera. The only saving grace was the narration expertly performed by Bronson Pinchot. If I didn't know otherwise, I would have guessed he's from Rural Louisiana. Under the Bright Lights - 4 stars. Rural Louisiana hick-noir. Hard-nosed, violent, swampy, cotton-mouth infested, and most definitely regional in its colloquialisms. Once I got used to the outstanding narration by Bronson Pinchot, complete with the various hard-to-understand accents, this story was quite good. Muscle for the Wing - 3.5 stars. Very bleak, hopelessness abounds in this one, even for police officer Rene Shade. The Ones You Do - 2 stars. Where's the plot? There is literally no story here, just a lot of characters talking, screwing around, and not doing much else. Not what I expected.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    This collection is fantastic. I was blown away. Daniel Woodrell has such a wicked way with language and I found myself re-reading passages out loud just so I could let the words out into the world. His characters are flawed and funny and real; I could not help but root for some of them even as they were heading down a clearly marked path to destruction. In the interest of full disclosure, I bought this book because I had picked it up off a table in Green Apple Books and was reading the back when This collection is fantastic. I was blown away. Daniel Woodrell has such a wicked way with language and I found myself re-reading passages out loud just so I could let the words out into the world. His characters are flawed and funny and real; I could not help but root for some of them even as they were heading down a clearly marked path to destruction. In the interest of full disclosure, I bought this book because I had picked it up off a table in Green Apple Books and was reading the back when a bookishly-cute boy saw it and said, 'Read it. Seriously, it will change your life." I took him at his word and am so glad it did. A favorite passage: "The dark of the nighttime streets was carved by lights of many hues and varying constancies; the red from the Boy O Boy Chicken Shack was a quick flick of the wrist and the green from Johnny's Shamrock a steady stab, while the rainbow in Irving's Cleaners was a slight but constant scrape. Streetlights and porch lights helps to slice away at the blackness, but the night had heart and stood up under it all well."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Deb Marra-Yurek

    Sorry to say I just couldn't get through the first story in the trilogy. It was just too hard to read. To quote another reviewer, "the metaphors are so convoluted, while I'm trying to figure out what they mean, I've forgotten what the story is about". There are just too many words used to get to the point. In the end, I feel as though Mr. Woodrell just tried too hard to make this book be a noir detective story. Sorry to say I just couldn't get through the first story in the trilogy. It was just too hard to read. To quote another reviewer, "the metaphors are so convoluted, while I'm trying to figure out what they mean, I've forgotten what the story is about". There are just too many words used to get to the point. In the end, I feel as though Mr. Woodrell just tried too hard to make this book be a noir detective story.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jason Robinson

    I am a big fan of Southern Grit Lit and this certainly filled the bill. The first novel was serviceable, but the second and particularly third were very good. If you like good contemporary Southern writing give this one a try.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    I read Woodrell's books in the wrong order. Winter's Bone is so luminous and character-driven, that it's hard to switch into the broader, more violent (seriously!), and faster paced world of the popular hard-boiled murder mystery after that. And I'm a fan of hard-boiled crime fiction! Woodrell does a great job setting up the atmosphere of the bayou, and I do really enjoy the way he sets out former boxer and police detective Rene Shade as his investigating figure and sets him in a family where so I read Woodrell's books in the wrong order. Winter's Bone is so luminous and character-driven, that it's hard to switch into the broader, more violent (seriously!), and faster paced world of the popular hard-boiled murder mystery after that. And I'm a fan of hard-boiled crime fiction! Woodrell does a great job setting up the atmosphere of the bayou, and I do really enjoy the way he sets out former boxer and police detective Rene Shade as his investigating figure and sets him in a family where some are on the shady side of the law (hence the name) and others are devoted to shadiness but seem above board (like his brother, lawyer Francois Shade). I actually would have enjoyed spending more time with this family and less time with the criminal shenanigans that these novellas trace (and chase), which explains why the last book, about Rene Shade's long-absent father getting into trouble with a sadistic killer, appealed to me the most. Each is an enjoyable read, but none is as special as Winter's Bone was throughout, perhaps an unfair generic comparison, though I think some Chandler and Hammett mysteries are as luminous and thought-provoking as anything written in a realistic mode. Regardless, Woodrell nails atmosphere and dialogue, and this book is a fast read, though I kept picking it up and putting it down (hence it took me a long time to get through, which is never really a fair way of evaluating narratives based so much on suspense).

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ronald Roseborough

    Three crime novels are collected in this book chronicling the gritty life of Detective Rene Shade. His portion of hell on earth is the Parish of St. Bruno, Louisiana. A place where the wildlife on the streets is ever bit as dangerous as that in the bayou. Shade is part French and part Irish with the temperament of a Louisiana gator. He got his education on the streets and in the ring. The fact that he turned out working for the law instead of against it is still a subject of talk in many corners Three crime novels are collected in this book chronicling the gritty life of Detective Rene Shade. His portion of hell on earth is the Parish of St. Bruno, Louisiana. A place where the wildlife on the streets is ever bit as dangerous as that in the bayou. Shade is part French and part Irish with the temperament of a Louisiana gator. He got his education on the streets and in the ring. The fact that he turned out working for the law instead of against it is still a subject of talk in many corners of the parish. Shade has more twists and moods than the Mississippi winding through the bayous. One minute he is tender and reflective, the next he is smashing someones face in with his fists. The author, Daniel Woodrell is a master of the turn of a phrase. He can paint a picture with words that makes you feel the bayou swamp water seep through your cloths and into your shorts. You can feel the pressure of the heavy rays of the sun beating down on you, squeezing the sweat from your pores, like juice through a cheesecloth. If you want a thrill ride through the bayou, latch on to Detective Rene Shade as he fights crime Louisiana style. This book provided for review by the good folks at Library Thing and Mulholland Books

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    The book as a trilogy far exceeded the books inside the binding. The Rene Shade story was great during the first two chapters prior to The Ones You Do chapter. The third series of the book stole my attention for two weeks. Entirely too long for the story itself to hold my interest. It came down to the fact that the first two stories, regardless of their shortcomings, were intimately readable. The third book in the story was a fabrication of what Woodrell thought made the first two books good. We a The book as a trilogy far exceeded the books inside the binding. The Rene Shade story was great during the first two chapters prior to The Ones You Do chapter. The third series of the book stole my attention for two weeks. Entirely too long for the story itself to hold my interest. It came down to the fact that the first two stories, regardless of their shortcomings, were intimately readable. The third book in the story was a fabrication of what Woodrell thought made the first two books good. We are finally introduced to Rene, Tip, and Francois Shade's father only he is much less interesting than the three brothers and their mother. He is actually not interesting at all and the only salvageable character in the novel is Rene, Tip, and Francois's new half sister Etta. The book is a less interesting version of the first two thirds of the book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Here is to Daniel Woodrell who is able to tell a story through character alone when everything else is screaming THIS IS UNREADABLE. Good dialogue and good characterization can escape the rest.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Spiros

    The "four star" rating above represents an aggregate, since this trilogy represents three independently constructed novels. UNDER THE BRIGHT LIGHTS and MUSCLE FOR THE WING would have gotten "three star" ratings, THE ONES YOU DO, where Woodrell hits his stride as the author I'm familiar with from such "hillbilly noirs" as Give us a Kiss, Tomato Red, and Winter's Bone, would rate "five stars". By the end of THE ONES YOU DO, I found myself so engrossed in the Shade Family that I am kind of surprised The "four star" rating above represents an aggregate, since this trilogy represents three independently constructed novels. UNDER THE BRIGHT LIGHTS and MUSCLE FOR THE WING would have gotten "three star" ratings, THE ONES YOU DO, where Woodrell hits his stride as the author I'm familiar with from such "hillbilly noirs" as Give us a Kiss, Tomato Red, and Winter's Bone, would rate "five stars". By the end of THE ONES YOU DO, I found myself so engrossed in the Shade Family that I am kind of surprised that Woodrell hasn't thought to revisit them, twenty years down the road.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    “Shade was about sixty stitches past good-looking…” Welcome, to St. Bruno parish. A sweaty, tough, bayou town, filled with rough and tumble characters, residing in pool halls and taverns, crafting dirty deals and crooked connections. Rene Shade, ex-boxer, born and raised in this gritty hamlet, is now a detective, trying to navigate his way, through this swampy, southern outpost. This collection, contains Woodrell’s first three books, all set in St. Bruno and it’s a perfect introduction to the work “Shade was about sixty stitches past good-looking…” Welcome, to St. Bruno parish. A sweaty, tough, bayou town, filled with rough and tumble characters, residing in pool halls and taverns, crafting dirty deals and crooked connections. Rene Shade, ex-boxer, born and raised in this gritty hamlet, is now a detective, trying to navigate his way, through this swampy, southern outpost. This collection, contains Woodrell’s first three books, all set in St. Bruno and it’s a perfect introduction to the work of this gifted author. There is a true hard-boiled eloquence to his prose, like this jewel: “ The old man had been tanned by the light of too many beer signs, and it just goes to show that you can’t live on three decks of Chesterfields and a fifth of bourbon a day without starting to drift far too f**kin’ wide in the turns.” Swamp noir at it’s tastiest!

  26. 5 out of 5

    wally

    I've read Tomato Red, enjoyed that one, so I figure to give this one a shot. So far (7%) so good. Reminds me (this one does) of some of Elmore Leonard's stuff. these are good stories, three of them, and they concern a fictional area of the mississippi and louisiana that is as real as any other place. like the brothers karamazov, the shade brothers disagree at times, and the old man is nothing to brag about and is the cause of much of their problems or not and how they deal with them, or not and I've read Tomato Red, enjoyed that one, so I figure to give this one a shot. So far (7%) so good. Reminds me (this one does) of some of Elmore Leonard's stuff. these are good stories, three of them, and they concern a fictional area of the mississippi and louisiana that is as real as any other place. like the brothers karamazov, the shade brothers disagree at times, and the old man is nothing to brag about and is the cause of much of their problems or not and how they deal with them, or not and so on. is it possible to sweat while reading? seems like i did, and too, it is possible to cool off in a wading pool, hallelujah and amen. give these a go. i can't see how anyone would be disappointed. great stories.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Martin Baltz

    I never write reviews, due to a sheer lack of go get 'em, but I love this author. I was driving down the road, listening to NPR, when I heard the "The Bayou Trilogy" was on Obama's summer reading list, so I decided to check it out. Gut-wrenchingly descriptive, is the only way I could describe his style of writing, and his protagonists tend to be heavily flawed, but with just enough underlying moral fiber - just like I like 'em. "Tomato Red" is my favorite of his novels so far, perhaps because the I never write reviews, due to a sheer lack of go get 'em, but I love this author. I was driving down the road, listening to NPR, when I heard the "The Bayou Trilogy" was on Obama's summer reading list, so I decided to check it out. Gut-wrenchingly descriptive, is the only way I could describe his style of writing, and his protagonists tend to be heavily flawed, but with just enough underlying moral fiber - just like I like 'em. "Tomato Red" is my favorite of his novels so far, perhaps because the main character sprinkles the novel with self-deprecating and morosely dark humor, which I love, and you won't find much of in his other novels. Woodrell is not much on levity. I had to stop reading him for awhile because he was making me want to drink to much.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rana

    The author calls his writing "country noir" and I think that's extremely apt. As is calling this hard-boiled detective stories. This collection of novels shows a clear progression of the author's writing; from the first to the last character development increases exponentially. By the end of the book (the third story), you are a part of the Shade family and want to keep reading about their lives. But really, at the heart of my five stars is that the language is just simply amazing. Snappy, witty The author calls his writing "country noir" and I think that's extremely apt. As is calling this hard-boiled detective stories. This collection of novels shows a clear progression of the author's writing; from the first to the last character development increases exponentially. By the end of the book (the third story), you are a part of the Shade family and want to keep reading about their lives. But really, at the heart of my five stars is that the language is just simply amazing. Snappy, witty, fast and flowing, with slang that's just this side of wtf confusing. I already returned the book to the library unfortunately, otherwise I would have sat here and typed out so many quotes. This is a book to sit and read out loud, just to hear how the language sounds when spoken and not read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    J.D.

    I loved the first two books in the 3-in-1 volume for their almost mythic sense of place, the vivid characters, and the rich, evocative use of language. I struggled to finish the third one, however, because even though it had all of the above, the plot just wandered all over and robbed the central story of a lot of its suspense. Woodrell's later work is exceptional, particularly Winter's Bone. I loved the first two books in the 3-in-1 volume for their almost mythic sense of place, the vivid characters, and the rich, evocative use of language. I struggled to finish the third one, however, because even though it had all of the above, the plot just wandered all over and robbed the central story of a lot of its suspense. Woodrell's later work is exceptional, particularly Winter's Bone.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer B.

    I really wanted to like this... I mean, Bayou Noir??? However, it just didn't do it for me. Not one likable character in the bunch, and none that were even despicable enough to be fun to despise. Just a bunch of sweaty, nasty people doing nasty things to other sweaty, nasty people which doesn't affect anyone outside their sweaty, nasty world. I really wanted to like this... I mean, Bayou Noir??? However, it just didn't do it for me. Not one likable character in the bunch, and none that were even despicable enough to be fun to despise. Just a bunch of sweaty, nasty people doing nasty things to other sweaty, nasty people which doesn't affect anyone outside their sweaty, nasty world.

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