Terror is Our Business collects the Dana Roberts stories, previously published elsewhere, into a single volume, along with a new story, “The Case of the Ragman’s Anguish,” that is exclusive to this story. The book is split pretty evenly, with the first half devoted to stories written solely by Joe R. Lansdale, with the back-half featuring stories co-written by Joe and his daughter, Kasey Lansdale.
Inspired by works from Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, and the mid-1970s TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Lansdale presents a female investigator who specializes in the supernormal. An atheist (yay! Let's hear it for atheist representation in horror!), Dana does not believe in the supernatural, and believes that there is a scientific explanation for all those things that go bump in the night that we merely do not yet understand.
For the Joe Lansdale stories, the setup is simple - Dana is a guest at a men's club, invited to share a story as a paid speaker. Her stories are transcribed by one of the gentlemen, who includes an intro and outro that each of Dana's stories are couched between. I'm typically not a fan of such framed narratives, but it's a literary tradition Lansdale invokes here, along with a deliberate writing style, to pay homage to those earlier influences. While the stories are well-told, ultimately I found the narratives to be a bit stuffy and old fashioned for my tastes, in addition to formulaic. Each story follows a very episodic three-act format, with its introduction of the characters and the initial problem at hand, some examination of the supernormal conceit, typically a haunting of some sort, followed by a tidy resolution. None of the stories break this mold or shake up the story presentation, although the last three stories do carry a fresher sense of energy with the injection of Kasey Lansdale's sensibilities.
Following Kasey's introduction to this collection, we are introduced to a woman named Jana, initially in a stand-alone story focused solely on her encounter with the paranormal, before joining Dana's investigations for the final two casebooks. Jana is a bit more my style - she's fun, witty, has a bit of mouth on her, says things without thinking, and is pretty much always in way over her head. Dana, on the other hand, is very reserved and proper, an upper-class sort of personality. Jana is her Watson to Dana's Holmes, and becomes our window into the world of the supernormal for the collection's back-half. Once Kasey and Jana hit the pages, the stories become livelier and Dana finally has a counterpoint, a polar opposite, to act against. The burgeoning friendship between these personalities present an entertaining foil. The last two stories present supernormal threats that are also unabashedly Lovecraftian, which hit a particular sweet spot for me. While Jana presents an airier narrative voice than the stuffier gentleman author transcribing a moneyed ghost hunter's adventures, the introduction of cosmic threats really tickled me, even if the stories still follow the by-now well-established Dana Roberts' Casebook story formula.
All in all, Terror is Our Business: Dana Roberts' Casebook of Horrors is a largely delightful introduction to this investigator, but it took a while for me to connect with the work as a whole. It's not really until the last couple stories that everything began to click for me, and it's clear that Kasey Lansdale's influence was key to the development of Dana Roberts and helped give the series a fresher perspective. I do hope to see more of Dana and Jana, as well as Joe and Kasey as collaborators, in the future though.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher, Cutting Block Books.]
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