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Dead Aim
Hap & Leonard #8.6
by Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press, 102pp
Published: January 2013

Last month, I talked about how Joe R. Lansdale was getting away from new novels in his long-running Hap and Leonard series and more into shorter pieces—novellas, novelettes and short stories—which were mostly released in pricey limited editions. I had a copy of 'Hyenas' on the shelf because Lansdale gave it to me as a bonus when I bought a lot of other books from him at a Phoenix Comicon, but I had little intention of seeking out the others on the collectors' market. Then I discovered that most have seen reprints in regular trade paperback editions, which is another matter.

So, I've caught up with 'Veil's Visit', the short story Lansdale co-wrote with Andrew Vachss, that sits in the gap between books five and six, 'Rumble Tumble' and 'Captains Outrageous'. This was reprinted in a collection called simply 'Hap and Leonard', along with 'Hyenas', 'Dead Aim'—which is the next of the novellas in order—and some other short stories, so I picked up a copy of that and here we go.

There's not much to 'Veil's Visit', but it ably explains what happens when Leonard gets finally dragged into court for burning down that crack house next door, yet again. He's charged with a dozen offences, because he had to be, and he's facing a sizeable jail sentence jail. Fortunately, Hap has a history with a lawyer named Veil, who's introduced here but shows back up in 'Captains Courageous', and he brings him in to defend Leonard in memorable style. Half of the twenty pages constitute the back story and the other half are Veil pissing off the judge and the DA, but they're all as telling as they are funny. It's a neat little story and it plugs a notable gap.

On to 'Dead Aim' and what I said about 'Hyenas' last month comes right back to mind. Lansdale writes lean and mean and he's been getting leaner and meaner as this series runs on. The novella length is a good one for a simple Hap and Leonard story, one that sets itself up, maybe brings in a nice twice but then wraps itself up as done, rather than taking a mid-book escalation into a whole new level of chaos. 'Hyenas' worked well at this length and so does 'Dead Aim'.

As always, it centres around a job that gets more complicated than it should, this time one handed to Marvin Hanson's agency by Jim Bob Luke, who knows the lady at the heart of it. She's Sharon Devon and she's being hassled by her ex-husband, Henry, but she can't prove it to the cops. He's a big guy as well—6'5" and over 300 lbs—so she fears for her life. He's already beaten up one of her dates and she doesn't want to be next. Hap and Leonard check out the story, find it legit and take the case.

Of course, because their judgement is never entirely on the money, there's more to this case than she has let on thus far and it doesn't take long for it to start heading south. That point would be precisely at the moment Hap hears a shot inside Henry's place, wanders in to investigate and finds himself on a hook for murder one. Now, he didn't do it and the cops don't believe he did it either, but it's not good and that's when the real questions start getting asked and the real answers start getting thrown out so that Hap and Leonard, as well as us down here in the cheap seats, know what's really going on.

I liked this one, which brings our heroes back into some familiar territory that I refuse to identify and that's good. I can never argue with people who point out the murder rate in tiny rural English villages like St. Mary Mead, which really ought to prompt the entire population to leave for their own safety and any villains to keep the heck away from Miss Marple. LaBorde seems to be a rather violent spot in east Texas, beyond statistical probability, but these stories do acknowledge that by allowing quite the crossover. By this point in the series, Hap and Leonard have become known to the criminal element in LaBorde and the surrounding towns and it's almost expected at this point for our heroes to bump into some old faces in any case that gets bigger than a short story.

I can't go any further without venturing deep into spoiler territory, this being a novella after all, and I won't do that. So, let's suffice to say that this is tough and violent and funny and all the other things I expect from anything featuring Hap and Leonard, though it does play up the tension a bit more than the violence this time out. We're kept wondering exactly who's behind what, even as the revelations come, and it's all wrapped up satisfactorily at the end.

After this novella, written two years after 'Devil Red' and 'Hyenas', Lansdale took another break but he came back with a vengeance. Next month I'll skip three years to review 'Honky Tonk Samurai', the ninth novel in the series. Also in 2016, Lansdale published a novelette called 'Briar Patch Boogie'; the 'Hap and Leonard' collection; the 'Hap and Leonard Ride Again' collection, which comprises much the same content; and another novella, called 'Hoodoo Harry'. Whew! ~~ Hal C F Astell

For more titles by Joe R Lansdale click here

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