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Life is kicking Pulitzer-nominated journalist Cason Statler squarely in the pants at the outset of Joe R. Lansdale’s potent seriocomic thriller Leather Maiden. Fired by his editor at a Houston paper for personal reasons (“I was banging his wife. And his stepdaughter”), Statler retreats to his hometown of Camp Rapture, Texas, where he sets about drinking to excess; stalking his ex-girlfriend, Gabby; and writing a column for the local daily—in roughly that order. Dredging his predecessor’s desk for ideas, Statler uncovers some notes about Caroline Allison, an attractive coed who vanished without a trace six months earlier. He turns the material into a great column, but his satisfaction sours when a DVD surfaces showing the missing history student and one Professor Jimmy Statler (yes, his brother) assuming rather unscholarly postures. The reporter presses on, not sure if his investigation will reveal his sib to be a kidnapper or worse. Lansdale has created a classic character in Cason, his most irascible, wisecracking protagonist since amateur sleuths Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. And though his patented affinity for the bizarre is on display (think human taxidermy), it’s the combination of back-porch storytelling and breakneck suspense that makes Leather Maiden a must-read for thriller fans. Knopf, $23.95