People who have been reading my reviews for the last thirteen years know by now that I’m a big fan of the East Texas writer, Joe R. Lansdale. I think I’ve read most of Joe’s novels and probably at least two dozen of his short stories. I’m such a huge fan that pretty much all the books I own by him, except for The Bottoms, has been autographed. One thing I can attest to is that I’ve never read anything by Joe I haven’t liked. He’s that damn good! As I’ve said a thousand times before, I still think The Bottoms should have been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I consider it the best novel I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of books over the last fifty years.
Okay. What about the Hap Collins and Leonard Pine series by Joe Lansdale? Is it good? How did I come to start reading the novels in the series?
Let me tell you how that happened.
The Irish writer, John Connolly, was in town one day back in the year 2000 to promote his “Charlie Parker” series, which are excellent novels and ones you should read. After a radio interview, John dropped by my apartment. We had a beer and talked about books. He checked out my bookcase and saw The Bottoms in it, which was the only novel I had by Joe at that time. He then asked if I’d ever read any of Joe’s Hap Collins/Leonard Pine novels. I said no. John suggested I buy them, saying I’d become addicted to the series after reading just one book. He was right. I picked up a copy of Bad Chili in paperback, read the first chapter, and laughed so hard I almost fell on the floor with stomach cramps. Not many writers can make me laugh, but Joe does. He can take a taut situation and see the humorous side of it.
Now, don’t get the wrong idea about the Hap/Leonard series. The books in this series are not comedy novels, but rather serious crime/detective adventures with a strong mixture of humor thrown in and Joe’s own particular style of Texas writing. You have to think of Bruce Willis as Hap and Samuel L. Jackson as Leonard, and the two of them bantering back and forth when they’re not beating up the bad guys. If you can do that, then you can imagine how tough these hombres are when push comes to shove.
Dead Aim is a new novella by Joe R. Lansdale about Hap and Leonard. It’s only a 103 pages long; but boy is it packed with good-old storytelling.
Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are still working for the Marvin Hanson Detective Agency (see Vanilla Ride and Devil Red). Marvin, of course, is a retired police detective who has known the boys for years.
Leonard is now living with Hap and his girlfriend, Brett, sleeping in the spare bedroom and eating all the vanilla cookies his friend can buy. It doesn’t help that Brett is supplying Leonard with Dr. Peppers, too. Hap has a feeling that Leonard will be staying with them for years to come, knowing a good thing when he sees it. Leonard happens to agree with his friend because he has no intention of giving up free cookies and soda pop.
Anyway, Marvin gives them a case that involves a woman (Sharon Devon) who’s in process of divorcing her husband, Henry. Henry, however, has been harassing her. The husband is 6’ 5” and weighs in at about 300 pounds. He’s already beat up one man who was visiting her. Henry has also told his wife that she’ll never get a divorce from him. End of story. I should probably point out that Henry used to be successful oil man, but the money has long since run out, or so it seems.
Hap and Leonard at first think the wife wants them to put a hit on her husband or to maybe beat him up with an axe handle, but she assures them that’s not the case. She just wants them to keep the man away from her. Sharon also has a lawyer advising her, who just happens to be an ex-husband. The crime-fighting duo smells a rat somewhere in the wood pile. They just don’t know how big it is yet.
Needless to say, nothing is ever easy for Hap and Leonard. What turns out to be a simple case of watching and waiting quickly turns into three homicides, a kidnapping, and a confrontation with the Dixie Mafia. Oh, and there’s a hit man (his name is Speed) who’s as big as Henry and may be the fastest man alive with a handgun. Unfortunately, Hap will have to tangle with him before the story is finished.
In other words, nothing is as it seems.
I can’t say enough good things about the Hap/Leonard series and this novella in particular. There is no other writer like Joe Lansdale, and his characters jump right off the page with full force, daring you to put the book down. Never were there two more likable Texas rednecks than Hap and Leonard. It doesn’t matter that Leonard’s black and gay. He and Hap are two sides of the same coin. These guys love each other as only close friends can and would gladly (well, maybe not gladly) give up their life to save the other.
The dialogue of each of Joe’s books always crackles with authenticity, capturing that sense of East Texas noir and of bad things to come. The characters never behave as you’d imagine, but rather throw you a curve ball out from left field when you least expect it. All of the author’s novels, including Dead Aim, are filled with eye-popping surprises and major plot twists that leave you grasping for breath and catching you totally off guard. Inter-mixed with this is Joe Lansdale’s unmistakable blend of Texas humor that will have you laughing your little white cotton bobby socks off as you duck from the flying bullets.
I guess I should point out that Joe Lansdale takes no prisoners.
When you read one of Joe’s books, you’re hooked for life. Dead Aim will certainly make you hungry for not only more Hap/Leonard novels, but also for vanilla cookies and a Dr. Pepper. If you haven’t read anything by this great American author, then you have some fantastic reading ahead because there’s the Hap/Leonard series, Edge of Dark Water, The Bottoms, All the Earth Thrown to the Sky, A Fine Dark Line, Sunset and Sawdust, Lost Echoes, Leather Maiden, Act of Love, Freezer Burn, Bubba Ho-Tep, and many others. I’m not even mentioning the numerous collections of his short stories available.
Do yourself a favor and pickup a copy of Dead Aim, if you can find it. You can call it an early Christmas present because one of this author’s novels is a treat in and of itself. It’s a gift from Joe Lansdale to you that will turn into a fabulous journey of unbelievable fun and excitement. I guarantee it!