My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received a free copy from the publisher for review.
This is a good time to be a fan of Hap & Leonard with the new novel Honky Tonk Samurai being released and a TV series based on their adventures about to premiere. As a fan who has been reading H&L since the late ‘90s I have to admit to feeling a bit conflicted about all this attention. I’m glad to see Joe R. Lansdale and his creations getting their due, but I’ve also got that same kind of scornful streak that makes hipsters such a delight when they sneer at any band that more than a dozen people have heard of.
“Oh, really? You started reading Hap & Leonard? Just downloaded all their books on your e-reader this morning, did you? How nice. Of course, they were better LAST CENTURY which is when I discovered their early books in a soggy cardboard box in the basement of a used book store….”
If you don’t know about Hap & Leonard already then suffice it to say that they’re a couple of best friends living in east Texas who have an uncanny ability to put themselves in bad situations that usually require a whole lot of ass whippings and some gunfire to get out of. They’re profane and politically incorrect but don’t think that they’re your standard good old boys. Hap is a former hippie whose bleeding heart is frequently the cause of their problems while Leonard is a Vietnam veteran who is proud to be black and gay, and his favorite hobby is burning down crack houses. In the hands of Lansdale the adventures of H&L are often hilarious and frequently gross, and yet there’s a surprising amount of depth at times about the real cost of violence as well as a profound sense of melancholy that the narrator Hap has as he reflects on his life and other matters.
Even as I look down my nose at you late comers I have to admit that this collection put together to capitalize on the TV show has a lot of stuff that I haven’t read. There’s two novellas, four short stories, an ‘interview’ with the author questioning the guys, and Lansdale also wrote a brief summary of his history writing the series as an extended afterwards. Michael Koryta also provides a nice introduction.
While I’d previously read the novella Hyenas and the short story that came with it, The Boy Who Became Invisible, all the rest of this was new to me so even as a long time H&L fan I found plenty of value here. (I’d never read the other novella, Dead Aim, because I refused to pay the outrageous hardback price for it at the time although it’s since become available at a much more reasonable cost as an e-book.) I was particularly delighted to finally read the short story Veil’s Visit which is a collaboration with Andrew Vachss who is also the inspiration for the character of Veil, a lawyer who you don’t want to meet in or out of court.
If you’re someone who hasn’t read Hap & Leonard, and you’re curious then this could make for a good starting point because it is a nice variety pack that gives you a taste of what they’re all about. For those who have read some of the series then it’s a question of how much is new material to you. If you’ve read the novellas already then it may seem a bit thin, but it’d be a good buy for H&L fans who haven’t.
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