Read as part of CBR11 bingo: First in the Hap and Leonard series.
Joe R. Lansdale is one of those writers I’ve always been meaning to get to but never had the time for. His bibliography, while prolific, is not as readily available at the used bookstores I enjoy perusing, nor are many of them at my local library (I had to buy this copy from The Mysterious Bookshop). And when I did try one of his popular ones, The Bottoms, I found it to be too much of a Harper Lee knockoff to finish.
But, as said above, when I saw this one at the bookstore, I decided to give it a shot. I’ve heard enough glowing recommendations for Lansdale over the years.
And they were write. The man can spin a yarn.
What struck me on this reading of Lansdale’s first in his acclaimed Hap and Leonard series is the good sense of his characters that he has. They felt real, lived in, like they had already been in a series of books. Lansdale is able to use dialogue and minimal exposition to make them come alive. I’ve seen many an author flail at doing this so I appreciate his talent for it.
The story itself is a typical crime caper but the politics are a bit different: the people drawing Hap and Leonard in are old school 60s militant leftists. They’re treated with derision by the lead two characters but I didn’t get the sense the author was condescending them. Giving Hap the back story as a formerly incarcerated intentional draft dodger makes this different from the usual Crumley-esque Texas crime novel I read where everyone has regressive views on human nature.
Which is not to say the politics here are perfect. Trudy is little more than a stock disposable female character who exists to be oogled, screwed, and cursed at. In a slim book full of rich characters, she is sadly underdeveloped. And while I think it’s a neat twist to have Leonard be a black gay man, some of the racial exchanges between Hap and Leonard aren’t as enlightened as Lansdale may think they are.
Still, this is an entertaining crime caper with (mostly) good characters, sharp dialogue, and crisp prose. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.