At this point in the series, some eight novels and a couple novellas in, reading a Hap and Leonard book is like having a couple of buddies over – the kind of buddies that always have the best stories to tell. Those kind of buddies rarely, if ever, let you down. The same can be said for Joe R. Lansdale‘s Hap and Leonard books.
If there’s a formula to the Hap and Leonard books, it’s this: the guys take on a job – protecting someone, or following someone, or maybe helping someone that’s been done wrong get a little payback; said job turns out to be much more complicated than originally thought; the guys deal with the complications with a little luck, a little skill, a little help, and, when necessary, a little brute force; the guys live to fight another day, while their adversaries (if they survive) limp off to jail, or crawl back under the rock where they came from. It’s simple, straightforward stuff, but Lansdale tells these stories with such skill that each one is like a breath of fresh air.
Dead Aim, a novella released earlier this year by Subterranean Press, sticks closely to the aforementioned formula. Hap and Leonard are tasked with watching over a woman whose about-to-be ex-husband may have negative feelings toward her and their current marital situation. The guys split up, leaving Leonard to watch her while Hap follows her ex. When someone puts a bullet in the ex’s head, though, the duo begin to understand that the situation runs much deeper than a man who didn’t want a divorce.
More murders come into play, as well as gambling debts, kidnapping, and the Dixie Mafia, a group that Hap and Leonard have already had some unpleasant dealings with (see Vanilla Ride and Devil Red). Impressively, Lansdale manages to pack all of this into a condensed page count without it feeling rushed or crammed – it all flows out in a smooth, engaging fashion. There’s also time for Hap to do a little soul-searching, something that’s been going on for the last several books. He’s a man coming to grips with his station in life, and he’s not completely pleased with where things stand. He’s happy to have his friend Leonard, who he usually refers to as his brother, and he’s head-over-heels in love with a beautiful nurse named Brett, a fiery redhead who doesn’t let her femininity keep her from being as tough and caustic as the man she loves. And although Hap is a man who is unafraid to hurt people, and is usually pretty good at it, it’s not something he enjoys, and the fact that he keeps finding himself in those situations continues to trouble him.
Plots and character growth aside, the real draw for me is the relationship between Hap and Leonard. Although it’s a relationship that exists between two figments of a man’s imagination, it feels as real to me as my own closest friendships. That’s not a knock on my friendships, it’s a testament to Lansdale’s amazing storytelling ability. I could read a 300 page novel about Hap and Leonard sitting in a car on a stakeout – a novel in which nothing else happens and the stakeout is a bust – and be perfectly content. The supporting cast is great and the predicaments Lansdale dreams up for the guys are always a blast, but seriously – 300 pages of these two shooting the shit in a car would suit me just fine.