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Terror is our Business Book Cover

Terror is Our Business: Dana Roberts’ Casebook of Horrors
by Joe R. Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale

Herndon: Farolight Publishing, 2018.
248 pp. $13.95 paper.

Reviewed by
Sara Bechtol

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Nancy Drew grew up to run her own million-dollar agency? No? Well, that’s okay; father-daughter writing duo Joe R. Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale went ahead and did it for you.

   Texas’s “Champion Mojo Storyteller” Joe R. Lansdale has always been a fan of the strange and unfathomable, as well as the investigators that pursue them. In 2011, he conjured up his own investigator—someone who was efficient, smart, and suave. And in her world, you had to be without the internet or television to not know her name: Dana Roberts. While the supernatural detective isn’t anything new, Dana has two qualities that keep her audience interested. One, she’s not stumbling around a ghost show for Travel Channel; she deals with serious cases that pay some serious cash. Two, she considers herself a skeptic. Dana does not believe in the supernatural, instead calling her work the “supernormal,” phenomena that is difficult to understand.

   In this collection of horrors, Lansdale includes four of Dana’s cases, all of which contain an outside narrator for a framing device. We’re introduced to this unnamed narrator at what he describes as a casual organization, where Dana is invited as a speaker. He thinks her line of work might as well be fiction, but it doesn’t take long before he’s sucked into the first story, “The Case of the Lighthouse Shambler.” Dana gets called in for a case located in a lighthouse that has been refurbished into a home. A dark and heavy presence lingers by the stairs, terrorizing the client and, eventually, Dana and her assistants.

   The prose is not anything extravagant or flowery, and it’s not trying to be. In fact, Lansdale avoids the sweeping language altogether. But that’s the point—these are not tales, they are case reports. Like Dana herself, the stories skip all the fluff and keep it dry and straightforward. They come across as journal entries, as real case files, further immersing you into Dana’s supernormal world. At the same time, they’re conversational, like Dana has returned from a case and she’s spilling all the gory details at a bar. She can’t always articulate the supernormal things she encounters, like the presence in the lighthouse, but she’ll try her best. She will “only say it was like a black electricity leaping through my bones, topping out at my skull to the degree that I thought the summit of my head might blow off.” And that, she continues, “had only been a touch.” It’s enough to get the chills.

   However, Dana’s reports can drag on a bit, as what happens in “The Case of the Angry Traveler.” The story begins with a phone call from another client, getting you geared up for the next big adventure. Except it takes this client six pages to get to the actual problem at hand. First, there’s a large rat. Then there’s a human finger inside the rat. The sewers. The underground city within the sewers. The different routes of this city. And then we get to the problem. Lansdale does this several times throughout his stories, having characters ramble on. They’re harmless, even humorous, in small doses, but aggravating in cases like this. This story is a whopping ten pages longer than the first three, and it definitely feels that way.

   Thankfully, Lansdale’s daughter Kasey jumps in for the next three stories, introducing a new character named Jana, a sassy young Texas native who has a supernatural experience and wants to dig deeper. She attends the “organization” where Dana has been speaking and leaves the supernatural behind to embrace Dana’s idea of supernormal. From then on, this world comes alive as the point of view switches over to Jana, allowing us to view everything on a bigger scale. This also allows us to see Dana Roberts’s flaws. Through Jana’s eyes, she can be arrogant, bossy, and uptight. Jana helps humanize her, make her something beyond this beautiful detective on a page. Plus, it makes for some hilarious dialogue:

“Oh, my God. You made a joke.”
“Did I?”
“Yeah, you did. It wasn’t very good, but you’re trying. You’re not nearly as stiff as people think.”
“Gee, thanks, Jana.”

   Unfortunately, Jana’s bright presence also deflates a lot of the darkness Dana’s world had set up. She spends the majority of her time making snarky comments and complaining about Dana. And in a realm where demons and ghosts exist, I couldn’t care less if Dana “was born glamourous” and Jana “required a bit more attention.” Those thoughts are juvenile, giving the stories a Young Adult feel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

   Essentially, just as R. L. Stine and Stephen King can satisfy both younger and older audiences, the Landales can do the same. It delivers on all the chills and thrills, presenting fans and newcomers alike with a decent taste of the horror genre. And though it isn’t so horrific that it’ll keep them up at night, the title character and her faithful assistant will keep them reading.

Sara Bechtol is an MFA candidate at Texas State University.