Joe R. Lansdale’s long running series duo Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are very different men. Hap is a white, working-class guy who was a social activist and served jail time when he refused to go to Vietnam. Leonard is a gay, black Vietnam vet whose aggressive, no-nonsense attitude reflects his learn formative years in East Texas in the ’60s. Hap doesn’t like resorting to violence, often trying to talk Leonard out of fights, and he dislikes guns (even though he’s a pretty good shot); Leonard is quick to anger, easily provoked (especially when slurs are used), and he doesn’t get Hap’s aversion to the use of force. Together, they’re the best of friends, doing all sorts of side-jobs for cop-turned-P.I. Marvin Hanson.
I’ve always thought the two oddball characters, plus Lansdale’s typical wit, would make for a great TV series—think Burn Notice gone redneck noir; now that such a series exists, Tachyon is releasing two collections of Hap and Leonard stories. These collect novellas and short stories that are a bit harder-to-find for the average consumer, from signed-and-numbered small press editions. I’m reviewing the paperback collection Hap and Leonard here; the other is an ebook, Hap and Leonard Ride Again, which features some of the same content with a handful of original stories, Lansdale interviewed by Rick Klaw, and an essay by Bill Crider.
Hap and Leonard starts off with the novella “Hyenas,” which begins with Hap arriving at the aftermath of an oddly comic barroom brawl between Leonard and some locals. In a roundabout way, the bar brawl ends up seeing Hap and Leonard hired to investigate a missing-persons case. The client’s little brother has fallen in with a bad crowd, a group of guys who rob banks and just so happen to need a new wheelman—and they’re not about to let him go. Things seem to be looking up before they spiral out of control, ending in a shootout in a pasture as one of the bad guys tries to escape in an ultralight. It’s a perfect encapsulation of everything great about this series: Lansdale weaves a tight, harrowing tale of justice-fueled mayhem, with great characterization and hilarious character banter.
“Dead Aim” is the other novella here, no less impressive even though it’s a different animal. Hap and Leonard are hired to provide protection to a woman being harassed by her soon-to-be-ex husband, which seems like a cakewalk for our competent duo. But things never turn out to be easy, and the “simple job” goes sideways when Hap’s quiet stakeout ends in the lethal shooting of the husband—with Hap caught by the police standing over the hubby’s corpse, now suspect number one. Investigating their client’s new boyfriend, the duo unearths a pair of moldering corpses in a run-down trailer home. The boys aren’t going to take this lying down, and begin to unravel a plot that twists around everything from a prestigious law firm to the local Dixie Mafia bigwig.
Lansdale’s storytelling prowess comes in large part from his East Texas charm, profane wit, and strong characterization, with enough snappy dialogue to keep a smile on your face. The shades-of-gray world has a thick layer of grit over it, but Hap and Leonard are firmly “good guy” badasses you sympathize with and root for. While I know that novellas aren’t popular with everyone, Lansdale in particular excels at them, packing a complex plot and vivid action into under a hundred pages. “Hyenas” and “Dead Aim” are sleek reads, trimmed down to minimalist perfection; there’s not a word wasted in them, and they finish without that “but I wanted to read more” feeling that you might get from some short stories.
Stories like “The Boy Who Became Invisible” and “Not Our Kind” are a change of pace, dead serious and pretty powerful stuff without the emphasis wit or wordplay—this is Lansdale writing serious business. The first is a flashback from Hap’s childhood about a classmate named Jesse who was bullied incessantly, and—as happens too often in real life—sees even his friends like Hap desert him. He gets his revenge in the end, but it’s a hard-hitting tale that tugs at your heartstrings, and you can see how it could have influenced Hap’s later idealism. “Not Our Kind” is original to this collection, and it’s a tale of how Hap and Leonard first met in high school… needless to say, it’s also a tale about race and bullying, and overcoming the bigotry faced while growing up in 1960s East Texas. Fans ought to appreciate these the most, giving a lot of insight into the two characters by sharing important pieces of Hap’s history.
Joe Lansdale is one of the most unique and potent storytellers of our age; I’ve never seen him meet a genre whose ass he couldn’t kick, the narrative style and voice from any of his stories unmistakably Lansdale’s. The Hap and Leonard series takes a lot of crazy ideas, throws them together, and makes it all work; they’re excellent entertainment, edge-of-your-seat action one minute, gut-busting humor the next. Hap and Leonard consists of two excellent novellas, a half-dozen solid stories, and a few odds-and-ends. For newcomers, it works as a sampler plate for the novels and TV series, an excellent introduction to a gonzo crime series with lots of thrills and plenty of heart. For the fan, it’s nice to be able to read some great Hap and Leonard stories if you missed the collector’s-only editions that came before.
- An Appreciation of Joe R. Lansdale by Michael Koryta
- Veil’s Visit
- Death by Chili
- Dead Aim
- The Boy Who Became Invisible (story)
- Not Our Kind (original story)
- Bent Twig
- Joe R. Lansdale Interviews Hap Collins and Leonard Pine
- The Care and Feeding and Raising Up of Hap and Leonard
Title: Hap and Leonard
Author: Joe R. Lansdale
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
First Published Date: March 2016
What I Read: ebook
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC via NetGalley)
MSRP: $15.95 paperback / $6.99 ebook, Hap and Leonard Ride Again
ISBN/ASIN: 978-1616961916 / B019X1AQI2