The further I read through Joe R. Lansdale's 'Hap and Leonard' series, the more it feels like he's just sitting in my front room recounting a story. This isn't complex stuff at all, reacquainting us with the leads, dropping them a quest and then following them as they work through it. There's no complex structure at all, just simple straight-forward storytelling.
So, let's get reacquainted. Hap's house has blown away in a tornado, so he isn't there anymore. Leonard's finally finished repairing his uncle's place and he's sold that, so he isn't there anymore. That means that the pair of them are now roommates at Leonard's place in the country. Brett's still in the picture, which is good, because I like her, and she's where the spark for this one comes from.
So, let's find out about the quest. Brett's offered information for $500 and she takes the bait. A dumb giant and a verbose midget tell her that Tillie, her daughter, finally wants out of her life as a prostitute. She's in a town in Oklahoma called Hootie Hoot and she needs rescuing. Naturally, Hap and Leonard are up for that job and Brett comes along, not just for the ride, as she's as bad ass as they are, if just as unsophisticated.
This unfolds in true Lansdale style. Wilber and Red, respectively the giant and the midget, are real characters. They work for the same boss, Big Jim Clemente, the latest in a long string of increasingly dangerous owners of the brothel in Hootie Hoot, but they're on the run, planning to hightail it down to Mexico before Big Jim's men murder them. Red, in particular, is a bucket of fun, spinning long yarns himself full of details that don't matter like how good the steak ranchero was at this one place in Texas.
Anyway, Hap and Leonard stock up on guns, expecting that this one will be deadly. They even acquire a pet armadillo in the process because that's the sort of thing that happens in the lives of this pair. Buy some guns from the disreputable dealer outside of town and end up with a pet armadillo. After the inevitable fight. There's plenty of that here, this being a violent entry in the series.
Then they take a road trip up to Hootie Hoot, the first of two key locations for this novel. Like I said earlier, it unfolds in straightforward style. They go to Hootie Hoot because that's where Tillie's supposed to be but, when they find that she's not there anymore, because she's been moved to the Farm down Mexico way, they head down there instead, making for two locations and that's about it.
We don't actually spend too much time in Hootie Hoot at all, given the way things go, but we spend enough time for it to be memorable. The opening scene in the whorehouse is a peach of a scene, the sort of fight that people will talk about for years and that had me trying not to wake up the better half while I urged them on through the tough bits and laughed at the silly ones. It's a great scene.
And there is another location that we stop at on the way between Hootie Hoot and the Farm. We don't stay there for long, but it's a former church where our heroes stop to pick the brain of an assassin turned preacher. As you do. The best thing I believe I can say about Hap and Leonard novels is that, as outrageous as the events in them sometimes are, they're utterly believable in the context of Hap and Leonard's life. Lansdale has a major talent at making the unbelievable completely believable.
And, five volumes in, I'm really digging these books. I think the plots may get progressively thinner with each succeeding volume, but that's no big because they're really not about plots anyway. I should underline that my trade paperbacks are categorised as crime novels rather than mysteries, because there's never really much mystery in them.
Hap and Leonard aren't cops or private dicks, they're just a pair of down-to-earth blue-collar Texan folk who find themselves in situations that they win out in as much by simply not quitting as anything else. They're either going to die or they're going to get where they need to get and they're not going to die because there's always another book in the series.
The crimes in these crime novels also tend not to be individual crimes. They aren't grand heists or scams that run once and are done. They're relatively striaghtforward ongoing criminal activity; here prostitution. But we don't really care about the crime in these crime novels at all. We just watch as a pair of characters, so well-painted that we feel like we might have hung out with them last weekend when they barbecued, wade through the criminals.
Of all the various supporting characters in this series, I like Brett best. She may not be the sort of woman you take home to mum without warning her first, but she's good people and she's loyal and willing to do what it takes, whatever that might be. I like people like that and I'm glad she didn't just vanish from the series the way she could have done in or after the previous book, 'Bad Chili'. In fact, she may be even more worthy in the next volume. I'm eager to find out.
And, talking of the next volume, next month I'll be reviewing the final book in Lansdale's initial burst of activity on Hap and Leonard sequels, if you can call five books in eight years a burst. They certainly were compared to the next eight, because those saw just one and that one at the very tail end of the eight. I already like the title, 'Captains Outrageous', a spin on the old Rudyard Kipling yarn, his only book set entirely in the U.S.A. I wonder how close they'll mimic it. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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