By Joe R. Lansdale
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Pub. Date: March 1, 2016
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
It should be noted that nothing in the book, Hap and Leonard, ties in with the plot of the first season of the TV series. If you want that, you need to get the first book, Savage Season, of which the first season follows closely. On a logical note, it would have made better sense to just reissue the first book with all those nice photos. I'm sure there is a perfectly good business reason this was not done that eludes me. But if that happened, then we would not have received this nifty collection of shorts. So let’s put away the speculation and talk about content.
A quick summary for those who don’t know Hap and Leonard. Hap Collins is a somewhat liberal and idealistic white straight male who spent time in prison for refusing be drafted during the Vietnam War. His experiences up to the present time challenged his idealism but did not extinguish it. Leonard Pine is a black conservative gay Vietnam vet with a more cynical (he would say "practical") look at human nature. He's not above busting the bad guy’s head. In fact, he rather enjoys it. What they have in common is a deep bond as "brothers from other mothers" which pulls them out of all the deep shit they end up getting into through the nine novels plus. It is this deep bond that makes Hap and Leonard so different and appealing to their fans. Hap and Leonard are East Texas Everymen with very tough hides.
The best way to experience the East Texas odd couple is to start with book one and go from there. But even for Hap and Leonard beginners, this collection may be a great place to start too. We get two novellas, :Hyenas" and "Dead Aim", of which I have already reviewed when they were in book form here and here. Then you have five shorter tales that add onto the persona and even give a little boyhood background. Also included; a Joe R Lansdale appreciation by Michael Koryta, an interview with Hap and Leonard and an afterword by Lansdale giving a little background on their origins. “Hyena” and “Dead Aim”, the novellas I mentioned earlier, are very typical adventures for the guys. They offer the meat for this dinner. Veil's VIsit, a collaboration between Lansdale and Andrew Vachss, brings us a look at a minor character in the H & L canon but also an important insight. “Bent Twig” starts out as a thriller featuring Hap on his own but doesn’t stay that way. He and his girlfriend Brett are again saving her wayward daughter Tillie. Bret refers to her as not broken but a “bent twig”. Finally of the contemporary short works, there is “Death by Chili”, a lighter and delightful conceit in which Leonard does his own version of Sherlock Holmes.
That leaves two other stories which for me are the icing on this literary cake. “Not Our Kind” tells of the meeting of Hap and Leonard as teenagers. It gives us an understanding of their bond at a time when their friendship was not generally accepted. But the masterpiece short in this collection is the “The Boy who Became Invisible”. When I first read I I did not realize it was Hap who was the narrator until almost the end. It stands on its own as a poignant and disturbing look at childhood and the events that may form our view of life when we get older.
“Joe R. Lansdale interviews Hap Collins and Leonard Pine” is cute but doesn’t give the stalwart H & L fans any new insight. I’m sure it will be helpful for the neophytes. Finally, “The Care and Feeding and Raising up of Hap and Leonard” is a well needed look at their origins and the author’s development through the years with these two endearing but unusual crime fighters.
So altogether, I see this as an essential Hap and Leonard addition and one that would be helpful to those who come across the guys through the TV series. But to be fair, any Hap and Leonard is good for me.