Saturday, December 05, 2009

Joe Lansdale's Latest

Even though I had tons to do this weekend--what with the 605 emails awaiting my return at my office and the Holidays rapidly approaching--I took time off. After a week in Florida, I was plumb out of steam.

I diddled around on the Internet and spent the better part of today reading Joe R. Lansdale's latest Hap and Leonard outing: Vanilla Ride.

I've been reading Lansdale since his first H&L novel Savage Season back in 1990. He's a local boy, born in Gladewater, Texas, and he's won an Edgar and seven Bram Stoker awards. His novella Bubba Ho-tep was turned into a 2002 cult film favorite.

Lansdale is an acquired taste. His novels are full of raunchy humor, foul language and enormous amounts of violence. I think of his Hap and Leonard characters as the flip side of Robert B. Parker's Spenser and Hawk characters. Where Spenser and Hawk live in Boston, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine live in East Texas. Where Spenser and Hawk lead upscale lives, Hap and Leonard are down-on-their luck day laborers. The traits the characters share are that all four are hard, tough men with a strong sense of honor.

Both duos include a white protagonist who narrates the first-person stories (Spenser and Hap) and an African American best friend and long-time partner in crime (Hawk and Leonard). Both Parker and Lansdale specialize in smart, humorous dialogue juxtaposed against violent and very dark situations.

Oh, one major difference between the two duos is that Leonard is gay, although perhaps the most macho gay character in literature today. Hap's casual acceptance of his friend's sexuality runs counter to the stereotype of the rigid Texas moral code.

The first five pages of Lansdale's fourth H&L book Bad Chili remain one of my all-time favorite story openings. Go here to read that first chapter on Amazon. I have read it dozens of times and still laugh out loud at every reading.

Let me know what you think.

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