Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale
Tachyon Publications (March 2016)
After nine novels and a number of short stories and novellas, sitting down with a new Hap and Leonard book is less like reading and more like meeting up with a couple of buddies to have a drink and swap some stories. That’s just about the highest compliment I know how to pay author Joe R. Lansdale, who has created a set of timeless characters who seem to live and breathe outside of his own considerable imagination.
For those of us already in the cult, 2016 is a great year to be a Hap and Leonard fan. There’s a new novel out, Honky Tonk Samurai, and a television series coming to Sundance TV in early March. And there’s Hap and Leonard, a collection of short stories, novellas and material featuring the brothers-from-other-mothers, due in March from Tachyon Publications. Although the purist in me would send Hap and Leonard newbies straight to the first novel (1990’s Savage Season), this new collection would also be a good place to start, stuffed as it is with short, concentrated bursts of everything that makes the series so good: the dark (often gleefully juvenile) humor; the bone-crunching (yet never gratuitous) violence; the laugh-out-loud banter; and the impeccable storytelling skills Lansdale brings to the table.
Hap and Leonard plots often fall into pattern: the boys seek to do something good, either out of their strong sense of right and wrong, or their need for cash, but usually a combination of the two; they achieve results which set off an unintended chain of events; and they get into trouble, often get their asses kicked, and kick a little ass themselves. However, Lansdale overcomes any semblance of predictability by populating the stories with colorful characters and by grounding the two leads with complex emotions and motivations. The guys are each other’s perfect foil and perfect complement, always ready to back each other up whether or not they agree entirely with the chosen course of action.
There’s something to recommend in every story in Hap and Leonard, but as always there are a couple of standouts. “Bent Twig,” in which the boys seek to rescue the ne’er-do-well daughter of Hap’s longtime girlfriend, Brett, contains one of my all-time favorite scenes from the series, in which the boys find themselves on stage during a local talent show, singing “The Old Rugged Cross” to an unappreciative crowd. “Not Our Kind” takes us back to the early days of Hap and Leonard’s friendship, and provides a clue as to where their trademark wit may have originated.
Hap and Leonard is an engrossing and, in many ways, essential addition to Lansdale’s series. If the Sundance television series captures a tenth of the grit, wit and charm of Lansdale’s books, the bandwagon is about to get mighty crowded. I’d suggest jumping on now so you can tell people, “Hap and Leonard? Yeah, I’ve known those boys for a while now…”
(This review covers the paperback edition of Hap and Leonard; there’s a digital edition, Hap and Leonard Rides Again, that contains different material than this edition.)