It's over thirty years since Joe R. Lansdale introduced his most famous characters, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, in his 1990 novel 'Savage Season'. It was meant to be a standalone, but the characters resonated and so Lansdale wrote a follow up, 'Mucho Mojo' four years later. If you've been following my series runthrough at the Nameless Zine, you'll know how it progressed from there, but I want to highlight now that this happened almost entirely through novels, eight of them by 2011.
Now I've just realised that, inbetween 'Rumble Tumble' in 1998 and 'Captains Outrageous' in 2001, there was an extra volume called 'Veil's Visit: A Taste of Hap and Leonard', which was released by Subterranean Press in a limited edition run. This was written in collaboration with Lansdale's friend, Andrew Vachss: Lansdale wrote two short stories, plus a third with Vachss (with its own recipe), and even "interviewed" Hap and Leonard after a set of excerpts of all the novels thus far and the one that fans wouldn't see for another couple of years.
I don't have a copy of 'Veil's Visit' and I didn't review it, but I do have a copy of 'Hyenas', a 2011 novella that's about Hap and Leonard, so I thought I'd take a run at it. It's a further Subterranean Press limited edition and it was the first Hap and Leonard novella. It wouldn't be the last, with another, 'Dead Aim', released in 2013, and then a novelette called 'Briar Patch Boogie' in 2015. The next actual novel in the series would be 'Honky Tonk Samurai' in 2016, which is what I plan to review next month. Otherwise I'll be paying a fortune for out-of-print limited edition hardcovers, because those things aren't cheap and they add up quickly.
Lansdale has never included much fat in his writing, his novels lean and mean and often much shorter than a different writer would produce to cover the same ground. That's gone double for the Hap and Leonard books, so it really shouldn't surprise me that he chose to move more towards novellas and shorter fiction. After that next novel, it's technically two short story collections and another couple of novellas, before 'Rusty Puppy' in 2017. I think what surprised me most is how long it took him to actually do it, 'Hyenas' showing up over twenty years after 'Savage Season'.
Now that he has got to this point, I can say that the new length fits Hap and Leonard really well. This one runs only ninety pages and it's just as tight and effective as any of the novels, merely without the mess that they inevitably get into getting escalated at the end of those ninety pages, which prompts further developments in the next ninety or so. And, as is becoming rather expected, it begins with Leonard's temper getting him into a dangerous spot that generates a nice hole for the story to fall into and bear fruit.
This time it's a bar fight. Someone said something and Leonard said something and the N word came out and the whole thing turned into a brawl. Leonard's sitting in the parking lot when Hap shows up, with a bloody rag against his head. However, he got the better of things, because the other three are definitely worse off: one sits unconscious nearby with his teeth littered over his chest, another lies behind the bar over which he was thrown and the third is actually stuck in the wall, Leonard having shoved his head so far through it so that it's sticking out into the men's bathroom. Hap pees in the urinal underneath it and doesn't flush.
What turns this from an introduction to a novella is the fact that Kelly Smith, once he crawls out from behind the bar and bumps into them at the police station, actually apologises for his part in proceedings and asks to hire Hap and Leonard to help him out. After all, he was in the bar looking for muscle and the muscle he found was all beaten up by Leonard. It's all about his brother, Donnie, a twenty-one-year-old disaffected youth who's fallen in with a bunch of crooks who rob armoured cars. Other than that, he's a good kid, but that kind of puts a different light on how he'll turn out. Smith wants him out and safe, so much so that he'll pay $10,000 to each of Hap and Leonard if they'll make it happen.
At this point, we're only a quarter of the way in, so we have plenty of time for Hap and Leonard to look into it, take the job and get into some good old-fashioned and notably violent East Texan shenanigans, of the sort we know and love from the past eight novels but without peripheral characters getting in the way. This is Hap and Leonard's show, pretty much entirely. The most prominent supporting character from the series to show up is Hap's girlfriend Brett, who ends up kidnapped by the gang, prompting this to become personal.
I liked this rather a lot, but I felt the shorter length a little too much. It works and the story is just as long as it needs to be but, after I turned the hundredth page and closed this little hardcover, I didn't want to stop. With the novels, I find that Lansdale is able to escalate more and further and so build our heartbeats up strongly enough that we're happy to close the cover when we're done and sit back for a month, while Hap and Leonard recover and we kind of do, too, before eagerly picking up the next to take another rollercoaster ride.
Here, when 'Hyenas' was done, I wasn't. I wanted to keep going, but this volume only offers a brief aperitif in 'The Boy Who Became Invisible', a poignant look at a key incident in Hap's childhood that helps him to grow up into the person he becomes. And, while that helped, it wasn't enough. I wanted to roll right into 'Dead Aim', a novella I don't own so didn't have the option. This novella compared to the novels is kind of like the difference between a good burger and a good Thanksgiving dinner.
And maybe I'll tackle 'Dead Aim' next month, because it looks like it's included, as is 'Hyenas' and its follow-up short story, in the collection 'Hap and Leonard' from 2016, along with the solo material from 'Veil's Visit' and a couple of new short stories too. Unfortunately, 'Hap and Leonard Ride Again' overlaps to the tune of three of its short stories and the "interview", while adding merely two more, neither of which is the missing novelette, 'Briar Patch Boogie', which looks like a separate e-book-only purchase, somewhere I can't find. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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