This companion volume to the second season of the Hap and Leonard TV series includes 14 flashbacks to the iconic Texas partners’ youth, eight of them new to print.
Most of the stories land working-class white Hap Collins in fights, and even before he first meets his gay black soul mate, Leonard Pine, when they’re both 17—a meeting chronicled in “Tire Fire”—most of the fights are about race. In the reprints, Hap turns on a school bully with the approval of his principal in “Parable of the Stick,” echoing his father’s legally sanctioned thrashing of the nonpaying customer who threatens him in “Apollo Red”; he declines to take part in a gang-not-quite-rape in the surprisingly delicate “Short Night,” witnesses the dark sequel to another school kid’s bullying in “The Boy Who Became Invisible,” accepts the help of Leonard’s uncle in still another fight in “Not Our Kind”—both of these last two familiar from Hap and Leonard (2016)—and bids an elegiac farewell to the world of his youth in the plotless envoi “The Oak and the Pond.” Hap’s father also takes featured roles in “Coach Whip,” in which he moralizes over Hap’s mother’s killing of a harmless snake; “The Bottom of the World,” in which he fulfills his young son’s request for a scary story in a touchingly comforting way; and “Squirrel Hunt,” in which he covers up the murder of a man who richly deserved it. The best of the new stories are “Stopping for Coffee,” in which a black man whose family is refused service at a roadside cafe finds unexpected allies and enemies; “In the River of the Dead,” in which drug dealers press Hap and Leonard into service diving to recover a chest full of stolen drugs lost among three family members they’ve shot to death; and “Blood and Lemonade,” in which Hap’s mother can’t resist some overexplicit preaching over an otherwise affecting episode in which she briefly takes home a forsaken black child only to be rebuffed by his mother.
The emphasis on prequels to the partnership subordinates the trademark dialogue between Hap and Leonard, who doesn’t even appear in half these stories, to self-serious moralizing over individually effective but highly repetitious tales.