Review: A writer investigates a UFO cult in East Texas

This cover image released by Mulholland Books shows "The Donut Legion" by Joe R. Lansdale. (Mulholland Books via AP)
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“The Donut Legion,” by Joe R. Lansdale (Mulholland)

Charlie Garner, a former private detective turned novelist, was staring through his telescope at the rural East Texas sky late one night when he received an unexpected visit from his ex-wife, Meg.

Or did he?

A storm had left the ground soft, perfect for leaving footprints and tire tracks, but in the morning there was no sign that she had ever been there. Had it been a dream? A hallucination? An apparition?

Charlie was still in love with Meg, who’d left him to marry another man, and what she’d come to tell him — if he hadn’t imagined it — was disturbing. She thought her husband had been murdered, and she wanted him to look into it.

As the plot of Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Donut Legion” gets rolling, Charlie is shaken but uncertain that there is anything to it at first. But soon, he learns that both Meg and her husband have disappeared, leaving all of their possessions behind.

Charlie’s suspicions turn to The Saucer People, a cult that had persuaded hundreds of gullible Texans to surrender their worldly goods and wait for flying saucers to carry them to paradise. The group was also known as The Donut Legion because it was laundering money through a string of local donut shops.

Meg, it turns out, had been working in one of those shops, and her husband had been seduced by the cult. As Charlie, assisted by his private-eye brother and the brother’s formidable lawyer girlfriend, investigate, they uncover damning secrets about the cult leaders and about the horrors they have planned. Before long, Charlie and his friends are in danger as the bodies start to pile up.

As usual, Lansdale’s prose is tight, he has laced his highly entertaining story with sly humor, and he has populated it with a cast of quirky characters. This time, they include a brutish, 7-foot-tall arsonist, a cantankerous sheriff, a loveable police dog named Tag, and a cowboy-hat-wearing chimpanzee who rips people’s arms off. ___

Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”