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Onyx reviews: Hap and Leonard by Joe R. Lansdale
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 8/10/2016
There's a lot going on in the world of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Their
story is being adapted by Sundance for a television series (recently renewed for
a second season), there's a new
novel (Honky Tonk Samurai) and then there's this, a collection of some of
the shorter works featuring the unlikely duo from East Texas. Hap is a liberal
blue collar redneck and his best friend Leonard is a conservative gay black
Vietnam War vet. Each man is a paradox unto himself, which might explain why
they get along so well.
This brief collection opens with an appreciation of the author by fellow
novelist Michael Koryta and closes with a couple of non-fiction pieces: one in
which Lansdale interviews his two main characters and an essay from Lansdale
about the genesis and evolution of the series. In between are a baker's
The collection opens with one of the longest pieces, "Hyenas," the
perfect introduction to the stories of these unlikely amigos. It is a classic
Hap & Leonard tale, starting with Leonard getting himself into some trouble
with some bad guys and, by extension, the local law enforcement, with Hap being
summoned to try to calm the situation. Hap and Leonard aren't detectives or
lawyers, but they do often find themselves being hired to get people out of
sticky situations, and that's just what they do here when they agree to help a
guy prevent his brother from getting in trouble. The course of their little
schemes never does run smooth, of course, and their loved ones oftentimes become
collateral damage, although they usually do come out the other side successful
if slightly scathed.
The second story, "Veil's Visit," is a collaboration with Andrew
Vachss. Leonard has a turbulent history with his next door neighbors, who run a
crack house that he has burned down on occasion. He's finally brought to court
over the issue and Vachss' series character Veil, a lawyer, travels to East
Texas to defend him. Leonard isn't sold on the man, but an anecdote from Veil's
past, recounted by Hap, seals the deal. Courtroom hilarity enuses.
The brief and whimsical "Death by Chili" deals with a man who was
supposedly murdered for his chili recipe, although there has long been
speculation that it was actually a suicide. It's a kind of thought problem, and
Leonard thinks he knows the solution, although there's no way to prove it. The
story is followed by Lansdale's recipe for chili, which includes taking Pepcid
during the process.
"Dead Aim" is the centerpiece of the collection, a novella wherein
Hap and Leonard are enlisted to protect a woman from her abusive soon-to-be-ex.
It's not the kind of job a detective agency normally handles, but the woman's
expectation is that the dynamic duo will meet up with the stalker and "have
a conversation" with him that will convince him that any future contact
with her would be a bad idea. Hap and Leonard don't exactly trust their client,
but the fee is good, so they decide to look into things. A few dead bodies
later, and the case has clearly taken an unexpected twist, which is to be
expected when Hap and Leonard get involved with something. Especially when the
Dixie Mafia are part of the mix.
"The Boy Who Became Invisible" is a change of pace, a story about
Hap when he was just a kid growing up on the banks of the Sabine River. In the
fifth grade, Hap has a change of heart about the poor kid who has long been his
friend. It's a story about the casual cruelty of children and the possible
repercussions of shunning and shaming someone.
"Not Our Kind" is the origin story: how Hap and Leonard first met
in high school and the pervasive racism that ensued that helped seal their
friendship. In the closing story, "Bent Twig," Hap's long-time partner
Brett asks for help with her daughter, Tillie, who has been in a series of legal
and relationship problems in the past. Now she's missing and her lowlife
boyfriend has been murdered.
This collection is a good introduction to the eccentric characters who
feature in ten novels and now the television series. The stories are full of
trademark repartee, violence and shenanigans.
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