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Onyx reviews: Captains Outrageous by Joe R. Lansdale

No good deed ever goes unpunished for Hap Collins, one half of the improbable duo featured in a handful of crime/suspense novels by east Texas writer Joe R. Lansdale. Hap, well into mid-life, has never done much to brag about. He spent time in prison for refusing to sign up for the Vietnam War draft and has held an impressive variety of menial jobs since then. His best friend, Leonard Pine is a gay black man with a short fuse and a dynamic vocabulary. The two make as unlikely a pair as Abbot and Costello, which means they're perfect for each other.

Every now and then, Hap surprises himself. Early in Captains Outrageous, he saves the life of a young woman who is being brutally assaulted near the chicken processing plant where he and Leonard work as security guards. His heroics earn him the respect of the girl's father—who also happens to own the chicken plant—and Hap finds himself the recipient of a huge reward.

Unused to being flush with dough, Hap and Leonard discuss what to do with the sudden windfall. The best they can come up with is to go on a Caribbean cruise. Both men leave behind their lovers—their greatest adventures have always involved just the two of them—and Hap isn't getting along so well with his girlfriend Brett these days anyway.

It doesn't take long for the pair to get on the bad side of a snooty cruise employee who gives them a bum steer, leaving them stranded without money or resources in Playa del Carmen, near Cancun, Mexico.

Things quickly go from bad to worse when the duo is attacked by a group of off-duty policemen. Ferdinand, a machete-wielding local, saves their lives but Leonard is seriously wounded in the assault.

Their savior is a fisherman struggling to keep his charter business afloat. His adult daughter, Beatrice, works with him, and soon becomes the target of Hap's dubious charms. The father-daughter team helps nurse Leonard back from his knife injuries. To repay them, Hap and Leonard volunteer to assist with some charters and then to sort out a little unpleasantness with a loan shark and some missing Mayan facades.

This being a Hap and Leonard tale, efforts to do good invariably meet with failure and the situation ends up dramatically worse than when they first got involved. Soon, people are dying and the not-so-dynamic duo retreats to East Texas. Trouble follows them home, of course, and another trip to Mexico is required to return things to some semblance of order.

Lansdale's collective work is hard to summarize in a few words. This series is ostensibly crime fiction, but it is farcical, rollicking and irreverent. His characters' language is coarse as they trade pointed barbs and insults and tell rude jokes. Even his female characters talk trash.

This isn't entirely typical Lansdale, but it's not easy to say what "typical" is for someone who writes crime fiction, westerns, horror, and then comes out with something like the recent The Bottoms, which compares favorably with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Fans of Hap and Leonard know what they are getting with one of the books in this series, though, and Lansdale delivers his best in Captains Outrageous. Depicting scenes never before imagined in fiction, Lansdale creates improbable situations and makes them work. As one character eloquently describes the predicament, "This thing has some twisties and some turnies." Along the way, Lansdale makes his readers burst out laughing at hilarious dialog and sometimes astute but cock-eyed observations of the human condition.

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