A few weeks ago I picked up a Kindle collection of Joe R. Lansdale’s, appropriately titled The Big Book of Hap and Leonard. Matt Spencer wrote an article for us about the characters Hap Collins, a liberal former hippie who just so happens to be a crack shot and martial arts whiz, and Leonard Pine, a gay black Republican Vietnam Vet with a penchant for violence. The two characters may have different social outlooks on national issues, but they are peas in a pod when it comes to helping people–for a fee, of course.
I’m not going to rehash Spencer’s article, so it behooves you to read it first if you haven’t already. In all honesty, I’d never even heard of the characters, or Lansdale, until I read the initial article, and I have to say Spencer was totally correct. You really do experience ratcheting tension and feel a visceral connection to every broken bone and bloodied face Hap and Leonard suffer–or inflict.
In this collection of short stories, not a typical outlet for Lansdale’s characters more used to longer novels, you have a couple standard fares with the titular duo getting involved in pulp machinations that are over their head – including an insurance scam gone wrong when the Dixie Mafia gets involved, complicating what seems to be a simple assignment. These two stories (“Hyenas” and “Dead Aim”) are previously published novellas, but are here collected in one edition for the first time.
There are a few slice of life shorts like “Death by Chili” and “Not Our Kind” and a vignette titled “The Oak and the Pond,” which are glimpses into the characters’ lives outside of their big adventures, These are fun to read and provide some more character development than you might expect, but the stand-out for me among these shorter stories is “The Boy Who Became Invisible.” It’s about Hap’s childhood and Hap’s failure when his friend is bullied into invisibility before the friend briefly flashes back into existence in a terrible way. It resonates in general, but perhaps because I was the subject of such childhood bullying it hit home a lot more for me.
In addition to the Hap and Leonard focused stories, there’s a third person point of view story about Marvin Hanson, a private detective and erstwhile employer/friend of Hap and Leonard. It’s an interesting contrast from the usually first-person narration from Hap’s point of view. Also included is a comic book script for “The Boy Who Became Invisible” and an “interview” between Lansdale and his characters. The latter blending of character and creator is nothing new in the world of fiction, and is perhaps the low point of the collection, but the rest of the book stands tall enough to make up for this shortcoming.
The book is 309 pages long and is only $6 on Kindle right now. That’s a steal for any book, but purchasing is compulsory if you’re a fan of the characters.