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Onyx reviews: Devil Red by Joe R. Lansdale
Longtime, unlikely friends Hap Collins (straight/white) and Leonard Pine
(black/gay) are now gainfully employed, more or less. Their job responsibilities—doing legwork for
Marvin Hanson, an East Texas private investigator—are
loosely defined. Mostly they poke around and stick their noses
where they don't belong. "It's like being in
a mystery novel with no detectives," Leonard astutely observes. Surprisingly,
approach often produces results, though there is usually violence involved in
the process. This is nothing new for them—they've been beating
people up (and getting beaten), shooting them (and getting shot), and stabbing
them (and getting
stabbed) for most of their lives, and through seven
Leonard has really gotten into this detecting business, wearing
a deerstalker hat that his friends all despise. For Hap, it's a job, far better
than working at a rose farm, which is also one of Lansdale's past professions.
Their first case involves
an elderly woman who was robbed and injured by three thugs. Local law
enforcement isn't interested, so Hap and Leonard do what they do best: track
down the culprits, get the woman's money back and dish out a little "eye
for an eye" retribution to show the thieves the error of their ways. If
they break enough bones, the miscreants won't come after them or the woman
get even. That's the theory, anyway.
In the aftermath of this donnybrook, Hap experiences a wave of existential
angst. Why does he do the things he does and, more importantly, why does he enjoy doing them? He and Leonard often end up badly injured as a result of
their exploits and yet they jump back into the fray time and time again. He even
tells his girlfriend Brett that he's willing to
discuss having a child with her, something that might force him to alter his
ways. However, Brett knows that Hap will never change and that his lifestyle
isn't compatible with raising a child. Brett knows whereof she speaks—she
has a problem daughter who takes her away from the story from time to time,
which gives Hap more opportunities to get into trouble.
Their next job for Marvin is a cold
case: the two-year-old murder of an affluent woman's son and his girlfriend, whose
bodies were found on a jogging trail. It looks as if they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but
there may be more to it than that, considering that both stood to inherit
large amounts of money. The mother has already hired one detective, but that man
just took her money without doing anything to earn it, believing there was
nothing new to find out about the case.
Hap, Leonard and Marvin initially assume that the son was
the intended target, but their new eyes turn up fresh details missed by the
police and everyone else. The girlfriend had ties to a vampire cult and several of her friends died under mysterious circumstances.
Hap notices a devil's head drawn in blood in crime scene photos and further
investigation turns up the same drawing at other crime scenes across the country,
leading them to believe that a
serial or contract killer is at work.
Hap and Leonard have ample
experience with cold-blooded mass murderers. Hap was recently wounded when
their paths crossed with the beautiful but deadly Vanilla
Ride. Once they start looking deeper into the case, someone who wants the
trail to stay cold gets involved, and the results leave Hap in a worse emotional
state than before. He loses his edge, which is a dangerous place to be for a man
who is so often the object of violent attacks.
During an atypically cold (for East Texas) winter, one that even features
snowfall, Hap and Leonard light out for Houston to chase down clues, accompanied
by reporter Cason Statler, who previously appeared in the non-series book Leather
Maiden. (Newspaper morgue denizen Jack Mercury from that novel also has a
few cameo appearances.) The investigation hits a dead-end, though, leaving Hap
and Leonard wondering where to turn next. Most
writers, when faced with this situation, send in a man with a gun to kick-start
the action. Lansdale
sends in several men with numerous guns, not to mention knives and bombs. And one heavily
Though sprinkled with Lansdale's patented East Texas sense of humor,
raunchy dialog and ultra-violent, well-orchestrated shoot-outs, Devil Red is more serious than most of his other
Hap and Leonard novels. Hap's emotional crisis takes the air out of the normal
jaunty banter, and a shooting late in the book ups the ante even more. As the characters age, there's a chance—albeit slight—that
the two men, closer and more devoted to each other than brothers, might actually
be starting to grow up.
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