The Hap & Leonard series from Joe R. Lansdale consistently hit homes book after book for numerous reasons. There’s Lansdale no-bullshit prose, the evocative East Texas setting, the abundance of dirty jokes and funny dialogue, the kick-ass action sequences, and storytelling that’s loose when you want it to be but tight when it counts. But what keeps bringing the Nerd back, and with Devil Red this is my eighth go-round with the boys, is my urgent need to hang out with my buddies Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, two of the fiercest friends a guy could ever hope for.
Devil Red finds our boys taking a gig from their pal Marvin, the ex-cop turned private eye, their duties being to look into the murder of a rich woman’s son. Their investigation turns up a pile bodies first connected to a psycho vampire-wannabe cult and later to a ruthless killer-for-hire named Devil Red, who just might have something to do with another paid murderer from their previous novel, Vanilla Ride, named, well, fucking Vanilla Ride, naturally.
Long-time fans of the series will find that the formula is still very-much intact, but with some surprising, late-in-the-novel tweaks. Hap still wrestles with his conscience over the violence and death he is constantly wreaking, while Leonard soul remains coolly unsullied, his belief in their righteousness ever strong. They crack wise and rag on each other, beat some ass and tumble out of the frying pan and into the fire. The bad guys are super-psychos and the violence is intensely rendered. But then in the last act things take a particularly despairing turn – for this series, anyway – that could drastically alter the Hap & Leonard mysteries from here on out.
But like fuck am I about to get into it much more than that. If you’ve never read the series before this is probably not the best place to start, as certain scenes will hit you harder the stronger and longer your love for the blue collar duo is, though familiarity with the previous books is far from a prerequisite for Devil Red. But then again, if you have read of these fellers’ exploits before, you sure as shit don’t need the Nerd’s word to get you pumped as all hell for another opportunity to hang out with Hap and Leonard some more.