I’ve always enjoyed the oddball “odd couple” setup of Joe R. Lansdale’s series duo Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Hap is a white leftist who went to prison rather than go to Vietnam; Leonard is a Vietnam vet whose aggressive demeanor is a product of growing up black and gay in East Texas. Hap hates resorting to violence and using guns, often trying to talk Leonard out of fights; Leonard has a short fuse, the proverbial bull in a china shop who flies off the handle. Somehow, they became the best of friends, starring in a long-running mystery/thriller series and a new TV show on the Sundance channel. This collection brings together stories of their earliest years as a “mosaic novel” or “fixup novel,” tying them together with a new frame narrative. It’s a look back at how the two met, showcasing their teenage friendship and some of the events that made a young Hap Collins into the man he is today.
On the one hand, it’s nice to slip back into some familiar characters whose antics I’ve enjoyed for many a book, but I worry things are starting to wear thin. There’s been a steady stream of Hap and Leonard novels, novellas, and collections in the last few years, not counting the fact that some (like this one) reprint older, harder-to-find material. I’m not sure I’d recommend this as a starting point for new readers, despite its focus on Hap and Leonard’s earliest days—if you haven’t read Savage Season or watched the first season of the Hap and Leonard TV show, I’d recommend you do so first to gain a full appreciation of the characters. This book feels like one more for the fans, as it’s missing the things that make the series so well-loved: there’s a joy to watching these two get in over their heads, forced to work their way out of rotten situations and unravel crazy mysteries. Here, it’s all nostalgia, a trip down memory lane to the ’50s/’60s.
I’d say that the best material includes most of the new stories. “In the River of the Dead” is the closest thing in the collection to the average Hap and Leonard adventure, a tale where the two teenagers go out fishing and find themselves held at gunpoint, embroiled in a cocaine-deal-gone-wrong that’s left a dead family (and the drugs) at the bottom of the river. There’s some good excitement and action here, a nice change of pace when most of the stories are more contemplative, dealing with a young Hap learning tough lessons about the world. Take “Blood and Lemonade,” where Hap and his mother try to help a poor black boy lost and alone; while they try to cheer him up and do the right thing, they run into the social barriers erected by racism. Or “Coach Whip,” a kind of two-sided moral fable about two snakes which teach Hap life-long lessons via words of wisdom imparted by his father.
This isn’t to say the old stories are bad, but they hew closer to the small-town slice-of-life meets coming-of-age variety. “The Boy Who Became Invisible” is one I covered in the Hap and Leonard collection a year ago, but it’s a poignant story that haunts me, where one of Hap’s friends is bullied to the point where even Hap abandons him; this boy has his revenge on his bullies in a brutal finale. “Apollo Red” is a flashback to a cocky young tough that tries to start a fight with Hap’s dad, only to find out the middle-aged mechanic is no slouch. “The Oak and the Pond” is a mournful recollection of lost youth and the passage of time, where Hap revisits the verdant forests of his youth and charts the “path of progress” that has left the area stripped of its natural beauty.
There’s blood, and bitterness, a pean to the innocence of youth and the naivete we see when we look back at our childhoods as adults. Because things were never quite rosy as we remember them being, as the stories show, dealing with bullying, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Even as Hap looks back at his past, there are no rose-tinted glasses, with the rotten elements shining through just as clear as the good moments.
The stories capture Hap’s important memories—some powerful, others poignant, some a bit funny, most a bit sad. The stories in Blood & Lemonade are all solid and entertaining, if dark; they give a good idea of how Hap came together as a person, the world he grew up in. But that also makes it feel like a clip show, filling in gaps so new fans are up to speed. As mentioned, I’m not sure it’ll appeal to newer readers since it’s a different speed than the usual Hap and Leonard fare, and the hardest of the hard-core fans probably own the reprinted stories. Those in the middle ground, who appreciate the characters and want to know more about them, will appreciate this the most.
- “Parable of the Stick” – Miracles Ain’t What They Used to Be (PM Press)
- “Tire Fire” – original
- “Not Our Kind” – Hap and Leonard (Tachyon Publications)
- “Down by the River Side” – original
- “Short Night” – Miracles Ain’t What They Used to Be (PM Press)
- “The Boy Who Became Invisible” – The Bleeding Edge: Dark Barriers, Dark Frontiers (Cycatrix Press)
- “Blood and Lemonade” – original
- “In the River of the Dead” – original
- “Stopping for Coffee” – original
- “Apollo Red” – Miracles Ain’t What They Used to Be (PM Press)
- “Coach Whip” – original
- “The Bottom of the World” – original
- “Squirrel Hunt” – original
- “The Oak and the Pond” – Hap and Leonard Rides Again (Tachyon Publications)
Title: Hap and Leonard: Blood & Lemonade
Author: Joe R. Lansdale
First Published: 14 March 2017
What I Read: Tachyon Publications ebook, 2017
Price I Paid: $0 (e-ARC via NetGalley & Tachyon)
MSRP: $15.95 pb / $9.99 ebook
ISBN/ASIN: 1616962534 / B01N65AEZX