Joe R. Lansdale
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, $24.00, 205 pages
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
If you’re waiting for the paperback edition of Devil Red to come out, then forget it and buy the hardcover. If you’ve never read a Hap/Leonard novel, but have been considering buying one of the books in the series, buy this one. Devil Red is probably the best Hap/Leonard novel Joe Lansdale has written to date, and all of the books in this fabulous series have been great in my opinion. This novel had me laughing my butt off at the bantering between Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, and boy is there a lot of it, especially when Leonard starts wearing a deerstalker hat like the one Sherlock Holmes wears. Leonard loves to get on Hap’s nerves, and he clearly does it with the hat. Of course, the hat gets on everybody’s nerves. The thing is because Hap and Leonard are now working for their friend, Marvin Hanson, and his small detective agency, Leonard is starting to believe they’re actually detectives in search for clues for each case. Therefore the hat! Elementary, my dear, Watson.
The novel begins with Hap and Leonard getting the money back for an elderly woman who was robbed and had her hand broken. Hap and Leonard get justice for her when the police wouldn’t. They take out the two bad guys, break a couple of bones, and retrieve the money that was stolen from Mrs. Johnson. After that, Marvin involves them in a case where a young woman and her boyfriend were murdered. The mother of the man thinks there’s more to it than the police let on and want Marvin and his boys to find out the truth. Near the scene of the crime the head of a red devil was carved into the side of a tree. The red devil is a dead giveaway that something is amiss.
During their investigation, Hap and Leonard discover that quite a few people have died with the Red Devil logo not far away. Not sure how to proceed, the boys shake the tree and then wait to see what drops out. That’s when all hell breaks loose because the Red Devil is more dangerous than Vanilla Ride from their previous novel, and she was a cold-blooded assassin who probably could’ve killed both Hap and Leonard with one hand tied behind her back. The boys don’t honestly realize the danger they’re in, until it’s too late. (I won’t give away what happens, but it literally had tears running from my eyes, and I don’t cry easily.) From that point, prepare yourself for several major twists that you never see coming. It was like getting popped in the side of the head by Joe Lansdale and never seeing his hands move.
Let me also say that throughout most of the book, Hap has been having mixed feeling about his work and the hurt he’s caused to so many people during his life. Leonard, however, is more pragmatic about the situation. If good people need help and come to Hap and Leonard for assistance in achieving some fair measure of justice, then what they do isn’t bad. Hap’s not ready to accept that because when you have to kill somebody, it always leaves an empty hole in the pit of your stomach, whether the person needed killing or not. He wants to finally do something else with his life and maybe settle down with Brett and have some rug rats. He can’t do that if he’s always looking over his shoulder. Anyway, what happens during the last quarter of the novel propels Hap toward the abyss as he seeks to get justice for Leonard. I can tell you right now, you don’t want to be in Hap’s path. He’s aiming to kill some people and nothing is going to stop him, short of death itself.
This novel is certainly the mark of one of the best writers in the world today. I don’t say that lightly. I still think The Bottoms by Joe deserved a Pulitzer Prize. It was that good. Devil Red, however, is a masterpiece of a different venue. Joe makes it look so easy, but I can tell you from experience that it isn’t. Readers tend to forget that Joe’s been writing off and on for over forty years. This man is not only a master of the martial arts, he’s a master of the written word and of telling stories people really want to read or listen to.
Also, in many ways Devil Red saved me. I’ve gone through a lot of changes in the past month, and much of it has taken its toll on my health. Devil Red helped me to forget about my troubles for two straight days and actually had me laughing with pure happiness at being with the boys again. The novella, Hyenas, helped paved the way, but Devil Red is the icing on the cake. You see, Hap and Leonard are so real to me, I consider them to be friends. I couldn’t think of two finer guys to know and to cover your back in an emergency. Creating characters like this is what writing is about, and few authors are able to do it to the extent that Joe can. It takes a special gift to make reading as much fun as Joe Lansdale does.
My advice is to run to the nearest bookstore, or to hop on Amazon.com right now and get yourself a copy of Devil Red. This novel is a winner in every sense of the term and one you will definitely want in your library. Buy it, read it, and then you’ll be hooked like me on the writings of (Hisownself), the great and legendary Joe R. Lansdale. Highly, Highly recommended to those who love great characters, sharp dialogue that gives you belly cramps from laughing so hard, edge-of-your-seat suspense that will have you guessing right up to the last word (hell, the last period), and just plain good storytelling because that’s what Joe is…a natural-born storyteller who always manages to spin a damn good yarn!