Seven laid-back adventures, one of them brand new, for “freelance troubleshooter” and good old boy Hap Collins and his gay black Republican partner Leonard Pine.
As Michael Koryta notes in his celebratory introduction, salt-and-pepper heroes have been done to death, but Lansdale (Paradise Sky, 2015, etc.) keeps his duo fresh through their dialogue, which manages to sound both relaxed and inventive. The pair talk themselves through three long stories and four short ones. All the long ones are keepers. After Leonard wins a bar fight in “Hyenas,” one of the guys he’s beaten up hires him and Hap to extricate his brother from a gang that specializes in knocking over armored cars. In “Bent Twig,” Hap, initially without Leonard, goes looking for his lover Brett’s semi-kidnapped prostitute daughter, Tillie, who’s “tough as yesterday’s fajita meat.” An estranged wife hires the pair to beat up her fearsome soon-to-be-ex in “Dead Aim”; when someone takes even stronger measures against him, the boys are left holding the bag. The plotting throughout is no more than routine, but the uncovering of layer after layer of double crosses allows Hap and Leonard numerous opportunities to discourse about everything and nothing as Lansdale spins out his trademark redneck similes, the most pungent since Raymond Chandler. Three of the shorter stories go by in a flash: a remembrance of a 1978 “Death by Chili”; a bullied kid’s chilling final act in “The Boy Who Became Invisible”; and Hap’s earliest recollections of Leonard, another kid he’s just befriended, in “Not Our Kind,” the only new story here. Attorney Veil’s defense of Hap on charges of arson in “Veil’s Visit,” co-authored with Andrew Vachss, proves mainly that your best friends aren’t necessarily your best collaborators. The collection is rounded out with Lansdale’s reminiscences about chronicling the pair’s adventures, the author’s faux-interview of his heroes, and four black-and-white photos from the SundanceTV series.
No one currently working the field demonstrates more convincingly and joyously the deep affinity between pulp fiction and the American tall tale.