Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Hap and Leonard Reread: Devil Red (2011)

            Hap and Leonard get spooked in another encounter with a deadly assassin with a quirky name.

             As if it wasn’t already obvious from reading the previous Hap and Leonard novels (in addition to the rest of his body of work), Joe Lansdale is a hard author to pin down, at least in terms of what he writes. Having written the gamut of crime, science fiction and plain ol’ “literature,” his interests are expansive and all-encompassing. But the author has his roots in horror fiction, and his work--no matter the genre--usually has something of the macabre to it. Savage Season featured the straight outta splatterpunk duo of Soldier and Angel, and Mucho Mojo delved full-bore into the creepy with religious, ritualistic child murders and vague voodoo mysticism. But while the rest of the series remained violent and twisted to a certain degree, Lansdale pulled back on the creep factor with plots that focused more on humor and action. With the tenth installment, Devil Red, we get something of a return to form, as the spooky is back in a big way as Hap and Leonard encounter vampire cults, deadly training camps for high-dollar assassins and a series of murders marked with the symbol of a red skull.
            Ever the ne’er-do-wells, Hap and Leonard have at least found some semblance of gainful employment with their old buddy Marvin Hansen, who frequently makes use of their services for his private investigations office. Not that the two are especially well-equipped at solving mysteries, but past experience has given them a certain edge in dealing with criminals and all manner of lowlifes. For instance, the opening of Devil Red, which sees them taking a pair of baseball bats to a couple of hoodlums who stole eighty-five dollars from an old lady in the neighborhood. But Hap and Leonard will need more than brute force to handle what’s to come, as Hansen Investigations takes on a cold case of a murdered couple, which of course leads the duo on a twisty, turn-y ride with much gunfire and fisticuffs.
            Their new investigation brings them in contact with Cason Statler, the protagonist of Lansdale’s earlier novel Leather Maiden, an Iraq war veteran who now works as a reporter for a small-time newspaper. Much like Jim Bob Luke, it’s always fun when Lansdale cross-pollinates his work and brings in other characters to the world of Hap and Leonard. The younger Statler makes for a nice contrast with the aging duo, but he isn’t quite as colorful as someone like Jim Bob, and thus it isn’t as much fun to see him mix it up with Mr.’s Collins and Pine. Statler winds up not being much of a factor, and he’s not the only familiar face to make a reappearance, anyway. Vanilla Ride shows up once more, offering her services to help Hap take on the assassin they’ve dubbed “Devil Red”; one whom Ms. Ride has a rather starting connection to, as it turns out.
            The reappearance of Vanilla Ride is also integral to Hap’s story this time out, as the East Texan bleeding heart is having something of a crisis of conscience, brought on by his last encounter with the beautiful but deadly ice blonde killer. That all culminates in a protracted scene where Hap has a rather extreme nervous breakdown, as the violence of the last few years of his life finally catches up with him and cause him to mentally check out. Hap was becoming a little too comfortable with killing folks in the last few novels, so it’s nice to see that come to a head and examined more in depth here. Of course, Hap winds up dishing out more death and destruction by the time we get to the last page, but it doesn’t feel as out of character as it sometimes has in the last few books.   
The action comes fast and the plot ticks along with nary a quaver in the machinery, but the novel is perhaps too narratively efficient. This is the shortest Hap and Leonard book since the first, and one definitely can’t help but feel that it could have used a bit more meat. When we finally meet “Devil Red,” they are introduced and dispatched so quickly it barely gets a chance to register. Without getting into spoilers, there’s a fascinating back-story promised by the revelations uncovered toward the end, and it feels like Lansdale stops just as he’s getting warmed up. Another fifty or so pages would have been nice, just to get a little bit more of the history of Devil Red.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...