Cover design by Elizabeth Story

“Hap and Leonard” by Joe R. Lansdale, 2016, finished July 2017

I love Joe Lansdale. He is as effortless to read as Stephen King (who I also love) but he is also endlessly hilarious, sly, and insightful. It is not easy to predict the twists and turns his stories will take, and he is a master at shaping your emotions. I laugh a lot when I read Lansdale. I have also felt anxiety, dread, despair, hope, sadness, and joy. Most of his books have sections that are bleak and horrific, but there are characters and situations that are also wonderful. All this is my vague and meandering way of saying that you absolutely should read Joe Lansdale.

I just finished the anthology “Hap and Leonard.” These characters are now gracing the small screen via Sundance TV. I’ve only seen the first season, which is on Netflix, but I really enjoyed it. It prompted me to reread the first book featuring these two fellas, “Savage Season.” The first season of the show covers the events of this first book. The second season, the second. Given how many books there are in the series, the show could run for many years. Fingers crossed.

These characters, a couple of working class men from East Texas, are an unlikely pair. Hap is a white ex-hippy who hates guns (but who is a crack shot). Leonard is a black gay Republican (is such a thing possible?) Vietnam vet with anger-management issues. Curiously, it is usually soft-hearted Hap who gets them in to the many insane and violent situations that the two have to fight through. No matter what the circumstances, they have each other’s back. They are skilled fighters, but they get their asses handed to them on many occasions. Sometimes they disagree, and take a break from each other. But they are brothers at heart. In reality they would no doubt be in jail for multiple homicides, but they always seem to play the angles and get away with it. Mainly because they only kill really bad people. The cops seem content enough with that.

“Hap and Leonard” contains 7 stories, one interview by Lansdale with his creations, and an essay about their history. Bonus: Lansdale includes his own chili recipe! I haven’t tried it yet. There is also a beautiful intro by Michael Koryta which perfectly captures why Hap and Leonard are great and why Lansdale is so amazing to read. Some of the stories flow in to the gaps between the existing books, but a couple take place when the guys are just kids. The heart-wrenching “The Boy Who Became Invisible” is a Hap-only tale covering a pivotal moment in his young life. It is easy to see how the events of that story would shape the Hap that we know and love. “Not Our Kind” covers a time early in Hap and Leonard’s friendship. It showcases their delight in one another, and helps forge that bond that is so unbreakable throughout their lives. The first story, “Hyenas” has about the funniest opening you will ever read. It goes dark places though. But there are bright sparks of humour even in that darkness.

I would like to include a shout out to Brett, who plays a role in several stories. This lady, Hap’s girlfriend, is smart, compassionate, resilient and fierce. She is a delightful character, and both the guys admire and respect her, and seek her opinion. Her life has been challenging, and her addict daughter has put them in perilous situations more than once, but Brett is part of this weird little family too.

If you are not sure about jumping in to the Hap and Leonard series of books, this would be a good intro to the characters. It will give you a taste of what you are missing out on. If you are already a fan of these guys, then what are you waiting for? And if you are coming to this via the tv series, I promise you that the friendship you see on the show is deep and real in the stories, and the banter is electric.