Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press, 2011, 100 pages
Signed, numbered, limited edition, -$45.00
Trade hardcover, 25.00
Review by Wayne C. Rogers
Okay, allow me to get this off my shoulder, and then we’ll move on to the novella. The cover of Hyenas is totally wrong for this book. As any fan of the “Hap/Leonard” series knows, Hap is white and Leonard is black. The two guys on the cover are both white. Evidently, the artist didn’t read the book, or simply isn’t familiar with the series.
Now, it’s time to talk about the short book, or novella, plus the added short story, “The Boy Who Became Invisible.” First of all, I purchased the signed limited edition from Subterranean Press for $45.00. My numbered copy is 399, so I don’t know if there are any limited editions left or not, especially at this late date. You’ll need to contact Subterranean Press to find out. I do know there are copies of the Trade Hardcover available at both Subterranean and Amazon.com. This particular copy is certainly less expensive, but it isn’t signed by Hisownself (the great Joe Lansdale).
The novella begins with Hap Collins driving over to the Big Frog Club to help his buddy, Leonard Pine. Leonard, who’s black, a Vietnam Vet, and ready to take on the world, has just been in a fight with three dumb-ass guys, beating them like bongo drums. They made the mistake of using the “N” word in reference to him, which was probably the worst thing you could do to piss Leonard off, unless you were trying to kill him. Anyway, Leonard quickly threw one of the men over the bar, stuck another’s head through a sheet rock wall, and chased the third man out into the parking lot and tap danced on his body for several minutes. Hap finds his close friend sitting out on the curb in front of the club, while the police check out the guy with his head stuck through the wall. Everybody thinks it’s funny as hell. Even Hap has to check it out.
The situation changes for Hap and Leonard when one of the beaten men offers them a job. He wants them to rescue his younger brother from a gang of bad guys who rob banks. The boy’s young and doesn’t seem to have much on top, thinking the bad guys are really his friends and care about his actual welfare. Wrong! The older brother sees things for what they are, knowing something bad will eventually happen to his kid brother. He was in the Big Frog Club trying to hire two men to do the job when they started the fight with Leonard. Of course, after Leonard whipped them like icing on a cake, he quickly decided that Leonard might be better suited to accomplish the impossible. And, as we know, Leonard seldom gets into any situation without Hap covering his back.
The boys have to think about the offer over some Vanilla cookies and Dr. Peppers. They soon find out that the gang is run by a large, mountain-size of a man called Smoke Stack. Only a couple of foolish East Texas boys would even think about taking on Smoke Stack, but Hap and Leonard never said they were smart, only skillful and inventive. To see some form of justice achieved, they’re going to have to go mano-a-mano against Smoke Stack and his gang, but if anybody can do it, it’s them. And, if you don’t believe that, just ask the Texas duo, but you’d better be ready to duck.
The added short story, “The Boy Who Became Invisible,” deals with Hap Collins at a younger age. During his teen years, he had a friend named Jesse, who was shunned by everyone. Hap saw a little of himself in Jesse’s quietness and quickly became his friend. Together they played Tarzan out in the woods and did other things together that boys their age will do. Once high school started, however, Hap began to pull away from Jesse, not wanting to be an outcast amongst his other classmates. Jesse never said anything to Hap about it, but when a couple of the high school students start harassing him, he finally decides that enough is enough and takes matters into his own hands.
Well, the boys are finally back. Hyenas is a sweet taste of Hap & Leonard in preparation of Joe’s novel, Devil Red. I’ve been a fan of the Hap & Leonard series for over a decade and can’t say enough good things about the novels. I love these guys and could read a book every week if Joe would write them fast enough.
What these novels do is display Joe’s brilliance as a master craftsman with the written word. His prose is sharp and pure East Texas noir, luring you into the story like putting nickels into a video poker machine. It doesn’t take much before you find yourself addicted, and that’s exactly what happens with a reader and Joe’s fiction. Pure addiction! While a large part of Joe’s stories are dramatic and action filled, many of them also contain East Texas humor, more so with the Hap & Leonard series. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to meet Joe in person or to see him on a video giving an interview, you’ll always detect the twinkle of merriment in his eyes as if he’s just heard a new joke and he’s dying to tell it. This definitely comes out in his Hap & Leonard series. One moment you’re in a tension filled scene, and then the next you’re laughing out loud at something Hap or Leonard has said. Few authors can accomplish this with their writing and make it seem natural and effortless. Joe certainly can. He always manages to pull it off like a blinding fast punch to the throat. Also, the characters of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are fully developed so that these East Texas boys live and breathe in our mind’s eyes. To me and other fans, Hap and Leonard are real and live not too far from Joe’s actual home in East Texas. Last, every time I read a Hap/Leonard novel, I automatically think of Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson in the roles. That says it all in my opinion.
So, if you want some high quality Texas writing that’s intermixed with humor and violence, then pick up an Hap/Leonard novel. Be sure, however, to have plenty of Vanilla cookies and Dr. Peppers around, or you might just make Leonard mad. We don’t want that, do we?