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Onyx reviews: Vanilla Ride by Joe R. Lansdale

It's been a while since anyone shot at Hap Collins and his best friend Leonard Pine, and a month or two since someone bumped either of them on the head. So they set about rectifying that situation straight away. 

The two men aren't in law enforcement—not by any stretch of the imagination. They're just as likely to end up on the wrong side of the bars of a jail cell at any given time, but they usually try their best to set injustices aright. They almost always have good intentions (though we all know what road those pave), and the skills and connections to pull off of their capers. It's rarely elegant or pretty, but often effective. Sort of like swatting mosquitoes with howitzers.

In Vanilla Ride, the first book to feature this unlikely duo since 2001's Captains Outrageous, Hap and Leonard agree to help a friend whose daughter, Gadget, is tangled up with a small town drug dealer. Though this type of outing is typically fraught with danger, the two men do a fine job of rubbing the bad guys' noses in the dirt. During the course of the proceedings, they end up throwing a dog through a window and punching a girl in the face. They also flush a sizable amount of drugs down the toilet. They get the girl (the aforementioned recipient of the punch, who is none too eager to go with them) and stir up a hornet's nest in the process.

The amount of money involved in the drug business proves seductive, even to the local constabulary. And even a small town hood like Gadget's friend Tanedrue has connections up the food chain—and in this case, the chain leads all the way up to the Dixie Mafia, an organization that has recently come to the attention of the FBI. After an explosive, public gun battle with the first wave of hired guns sent by the Dixie Mafia to teach Hap and Leonard a lesson about sticking their wisecracking noses where they aren't appreciated, our fearless friends end up in the slammer facing major charges.

In return for a deal, they agree to track down and retrieve the son of an FBI informer. The young man took a powder—and a few hundred thousand of the Dixie Mafia's dollars. The mobsters underestimate Hap and Leonard at first (it's an honest mistake), but keep bringing out bigger and bigger guns in an attempt to settle the score. The body count increases rapidly, including bad guys and innocent by-standards. By the time the eponymous hit person arrives on the scene, Hap and Leonard are battered, bruised, wounded and weak.

They're a funny couple, Hap and Leonard—a lazy straight white man who would rather sit around doing nothing than work, if it wasn't that he needed money, and a gay black Vietnam vet who thinks he's a lot funnier than he really is. Hap, at least, has a long-term relationship with the big, buxom and beautiful Brett. Leonard's latest relationship, on the other hand, is on the rocks, as it so often seems to be. They dodge bullets, throw punches and crack wise, in the way that only private detectives and would-be heroes do in novels. Even if the people they're talking to don't always find them funny, the situations Landsdale conjures up for them usually are. These stories are a perfect balance between violence and comedy, one that is difficult to pull off.

The plot of Vanilla Ride isn't terribly complex, though Lansdale does have a few tricks and twists up his sleeve, but the linear storyline isn't the point in Hap and Leonard novels. The books are driven by utter delight in watching these two men interact and kick collective butt. Individually, they are unimpressive, but together they area match for just about any man—or woman. Their repartee is flippant to the extreme, but when the chips are down, their military and martial arts training comes into play, even if they are getting a little long in the tooth and it takes them longer and longer to recover from the whuppins they inevitably take along the way

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