Under the Bright Lights ~ A Capsule Book Review

Under the Bright Lights ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Daniel Woodrell (born 1952) is among the best current American writers. His novels The Death of Sweet Mister, Tomato Red, and The Maid’s Version are among my favorites. His 1986 novel, Under the Bright Lights, is a noirish story set in the fictional Missouri town of Saint Bruno, a medium-sized city of 200,000 residents. Saint Bruno sits on edge of the roiling, mysterious Mississippi River and has a distinctly Southern quality to it, as well as a French flavor. A lot of the residents of Saint Bruno are of French descent; a largely French section of town is known as “Frogtown.”

When Arthur Rankin, prominent black politician and porno-movie theatre owner, is shot and killed in his own home, police detective Rene Shade is called in to investigate. Rene is a former boxer who might have been a “contendah” but wasn’t. He has lived in Saint Bruno his whole life and has a less-than-spectacular personal life, living over a poolroom with his mother. In his professional capacity as police detective, he peels back the layers of corruption to get to the truth behind the murder of Arthur Rankin. There are low-level gangsters and high-level gangsters, shady politicians (sometimes politicians and gangsters are the same thing), thugs, bimbos, redneck punks, losers, not-very-bright paid killers, and lots of local color in the steamy river town of Saint Bruno, Missouri. Oh, and let us not forget, there’s a slam-bam climactic scene and shootout in the primeval swamp called “Marais de Croche” (Crooked Swamp). You wouldn’t want to be stuck in this creepy swamp alone at night. You might never get out.

Under the Bright Lights is an atmospheric, smart-talking, tightly written short novel (160 pages) by a very talented writer, Daniel Woodrell. I met him once at one of his book signings in St. Louis and he’s as unpretentious in person as his writing is impressive on the printed page.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

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