The Marauders

By Tom Cooper

(Crown/Archetype, $26,  320 pages)

Who is this author?

Unless you are a faithful reader of short stories in small literary magazines, you’ve likely never heard of Tom Cooper. Until now.  Cooper has published his first novel, and The Marauders ought to propel him into the literary limelight. Born in Fort Lauderdale and transplanted to New Orleans, where he teaches and writes, Cooper is gathering high praise for his noir-on-the-bayou adventure novel, and he is working on other novels and TV screenplays. Fans of The Marauders, of which I am one, are looking forward to whatever Cooper does next.

What is this book about?

The tiny town of Jeannette, LA, was never paradise, but this bayou hamlet offered a living to a scruffy, tough and generally eccentric band of shrimpers. Then came disaster, not only in the form of Hurricane Katrina, but also the ecology-destroying BP oil spill. That was enough to tip precarious lives into total disarray, as Tom Cooper so brilliantly describes here. The story opens with Lindquist, a one-armed shrimper and full-time drunk who has managed to mislay his custom-made artificial limb, just as you might lose your wallet. Lindquist makes his living netting shrimp, but his passionate obsession is treasure-hunting: specifically, seeking the loot rumored to be buried on a bayou island by famed French pirate Jean Lafitte. Orbiting the half-crazy Lindquist are other piquant characters: the rattlesnake-mean, psychopathic, pot-growing Toup twins; a gruff and stubborn shrimper whose sweet son wants to build his own boat and blames his dad for his mother’s death during Katrina; a weasel-y BP operative whose job it is to persuade the locals to accept a measly settlement for their oil-spill losses; and two jailhouse losers and dedicated stoners who get mixed up in everybody’s business. This is a character-driven novel, and with characters like these, that’s the only way to go.

Why you’ll like it:

More fun than a barrel of alligators, and just as menacing, this is a vibrant first novel that leaves you wanting more. The characters are piquant, pungent or whatever adjective meaning highly spicy you choose; the dialogue is, too. Though the plot occasionally becomes as murky as swamp water, it does not spoil the enjoyment. But it’s not all laughs: Cooper writes so vividly you can smell the oily environmental devastation and feel mightily for the plight of the characters who are drowning, in every sense, in circumstances they did not create and cannot control. While its humor is to be treasured, the anger buried beneath The Marauders gives it weight and makes it a cautionary tale for our times.

What others are saying:

Kirkus Reviews gives it a star and says: “Rumors of lost pirate treasure in the Gulf of Mexico drive hard men mad in the sweaty, desperate days after the BP oil spill. This is one hell of a debut novel. Cooper combines the rough-hewn but poetic style favored by writers like Charles Willeford with the kinds of miscreants so beloved by Elmore Leonard, all operating in the tumultuous modern-day disaster that is New Orleans. Our chief troublemaker is old Gus Lindquist, a one-armed drunk who believes that a hard-to-find island off the coast still holds the buried doubloons of French pirate Jean Lafitte. He hires Wes Trench, the troubled teenage son of a local shrimper, to accompany him on his so-called adventure to find the loot. Unfortunately, the site in Louisiana’s Barataria region is also home to a patch of particularly potent weed farmed by Reginald and Victor Toup, two dangerous scumbags who think up stunts like delivering an alligator to Lindquist’s bedroom in an attempt to scare him off. Other comic moments come from the efforts of slick BP representative Brady Grimes to convince the hardheaded and suspicious locals to take a paltry, token payment over the massive settlement everyone knows is coming. Lastly, Cooper throws in a pair of wild cards in Nate Cosgrove and John Henry Hanson, unlikely allies who meet on a road crew while serving out their community-service sentences. When Cosgrove and Hanson decide the Toup brothers’ ganja is worth ripping off, it all comes boiling over in a conflict not everyone will survive. With crisp, noir-inspired writing and a firmly believable setting, Cooper has written an engaging homage to classic crime writing that still finds things to say about the desperate days we live through now. Somewhere, Donald E. Westlake, John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard are smiling down on this nasty, funny piece of work.”

The Barnes & Noble Review says: “This sounds like a Carl Hiaasen caper, but The Marauders, with all its humor and snap, is also a subtle elegy: for the Barataria, a fragile Louisiana waterland, and for the working lives of its ornery inhabitants. Not that Cooper romanticizes either one. “By forty, they were drinking whiskey every night to keep the pain at bay,” Wes knows, “scoring Oxycontins from their doctors and friends just to make it through another day of trawling.” In a series of alternating chapters so compressed and finely drawn that any one could be a short story, (Cooper’s first discipline), each skewed character and gimcrack dive emerges with the tactile clarity we expect from Elmore Leonard or Annie Proulx. We can picture the shrimp buyer’s teeth, ” . . . fake and over-large and country-club white,” and the sheriff settling his hat ” . . . on top of his mastiff head”; the motel room whose ” . . . cinder-block walls were painted shiny beige with hardened drips like veins” and the roadhouse vibrating with “the mortar fire of music in the bar.”

Publishers Weekly says:  “Cooper conjures all the complexities of post-Katrina, post–Deepwater Horizon bayou life in his first novel, a noirish crime story with a sense of humor set on the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Each of the memorable main characters is introduced by a short chapter bearing his—or, in the case of the sinister marijuana-growing Toup Brothers, their—name. The shifting perspective keeps things moving along as we move deeper into the muck. Wes Trench ponders whether there’s a future in shrimping when the hauls are getting smaller and smaller, and Bayou men like his father are broken down by the time they reach 40. There’s Lindquist, a one-armed shrimper who’s searching for the fabled treasure of pirate Jean Lafitte in the bay with his metal detector, and whom nobody takes seriously. Then there’s Cosgrove and Hanson, a couple of small-time cons, and Grimes, a BP lawyer poking around the Barataria region, asking the old-timers to sign away their claims. Add in some alligators, body parts, and hidden treasure, and this mélange begins to thicken into a roiling gumbo. Cooper’s novel is a blast; descriptions of the natural beauty of the cypress swamps and waterways, along with the hardscrabble ways of its singular inhabitants, further elevate this story.”

“Sad, grotesque, hilarious, breathtaking…stands with ease among the work of such stylistic predecessors as Twain, Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard. One thing that gives “The Marauders” its own clear hallmark is its quicksilver prose. The book’s other standout aspect is how it demands and earns sympathy for all but its most evil characters and for the fate-blasted but nature-blessed locale they inhabit. You might not want to retire there, but you’ll savor this visit,” says The Wall Street Journal.

“Tom Cooper has Louisiana dead to rights. Every aspect. Jeanette, the sleepy bayou town ravaged by man and nature alike, is rendered in Technicolor detail. Its residents, lifers and visitors alike, leap from the pages. The story rolls like a tide, handling triumph and tragedy alike with a dark, mischievous humor that Cooper wields expertly…There’s more than a hint of the Southern gothic here, more than a little Flannery O’Connor…It’s easy to forget this is his first novel. Some books require boxes of tissues. This one requires an, as Cooper writes, “an ass-pocket whiskey bottle.” Get you a drink and get comfortable. You won’t be moving until you hit the last page,” says The Advocate.

“A debut novel that does nothing in half measures.  It isn’t afraid to take risks, dabble in darkness and skirt the edge of ruin, and this is what makes it such an exciting read…The Marauders takes readers on a rollicking adventure deep into the heart of Louisiana’s marshes as well as some of the darkest corners of the human psyche…The plot is brisk, the characters are captivating and the writing is lush and striking. Cooper’s writing is the kind a reader can happily get lost in, and his depictions of the Deep South are so evocative that if he ever gets tired of fiction, he might give travel writing a try. But The Marauders is such an impressive offering from an audacious new voice in fiction that one can only hope it is but the first of many. As far as bibliophilic treasure hunts go, this one is literary gold,” says Bookpage.


When is it available?

This adventure tale is waiting for you at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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