VANILLA RIDE by Joe R. Lansdale

Book Quote:

“Where we were going was kind of a peckerwood suburb, which was pretty much a clutch of fall-defoliated trees, some evergreen pines, a listing mobile home, and a dog hunched to drop a load in what passed for a yard. The dog was medium-sized, dirty yellow, and looked like the last meal he had eaten, he was dropping. He was working so hard at dropping those turds, his eyes were damn near crossed, had the kind of concentration that made you consider he might be close to figuring out the problems with string theory. He didn’t look owned. Had the look of a freelance dog. Maybe there was something to be said for that.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Guy Savage (JUL 23, 2009)

Special: Author Interview

If you like novels that are riveting, wildly profane and yet strangely profound, then welcome to Vanilla Ride, the latest novel in the Hap & Leonard series from author Joe Lansdale, and if you haven’t read one of his novels yet, then what are you waiting for?

As I’ve said before on this site, one of the very best things about reviewing for is that I’ve been introduced to authors I never knew existed, and I hope I don’t hurt writer Joe Lansdale’s feelings when I say that up until 2008, I’d never heard his name. Now I can’t wait for his next book to hit the shelves.

Vanilla Ride is the latest novel in the Hap Collins and Leonard Pine series, and as always the tale is narrated by Hap and flavoured with his laid-back style. Hap and Leonard, two tough working class men, are a couple of strange characters who hook up occasionally, through circumstance, usually to engage in some “serious ass-whooping” in their East Texas hometown. Hap and Leonard are not normally people you’d imagine as firm friends. On the surface of things, they seem to be polar opposites. Hap is white and straight, and Leonard is gay and black. Of course, this leads to all sorts of assumptions about their relationship, but bottom line is that these two seemingly disparate men share an unbreakable bond of loyalty and friendship with each other. The fact that Leonard is gay, and fiercely proud of it, makes the friendship between these two that much more intriguing–especially when those around them sometimes don’t know how to take the off-the-wall remarks they bounce back and forth.

Vanilla Ride is at once very, very funny and very violent–an unusual combination that can’t be easy to achieve, and yet the author blends these two elements easily and seamlessly without ever seeming facetious or superficial. The violence is explosive and often unexpected, but it’s never glorified. While Leonard can kill with impunity, Hap makes the perfect narrator as he occasionally ponders the ramifications of his actions, and this laconic self-reflection is never over done. The humour runs almost non-stop through the tale, and it either occurs through Hap’s unique interpretation of events or through the dialogue between Hap and Leonard. If they ever decided to take to the stage, they’d have a career in stand-up comedy. I’d like to say that the humour overrides the violence, but the other books I’ve been reading lately impact that statement. Lansdale is known for his Texas Noir tales, so expect all the things that implies–a dark soulnessness, good guys and bad guys, but at times the line between “good” and “bad” blurs to the point of being practically non-existent. Vanilla Ride–like the other Hap & Leonard tales tackles racism, homophobia, with the occasional jab at organized religion. Hap & Leonard, naturally, are magnets for all sorts of –isms, and not accepting these characters probably says a great deal about the readers’ tolerance. Oh and if any of you prissy readers out there don’t care for bad language, then I suggest that you don’t bother with Hap and Leonard and move right along to something else. Hap and Leonard don’t just swear, they could give lessons in profanity, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The story begins when Leonard Pine shows up at Hap’s house late one night with ex-cop, Marvin Hanson. Hanson’s in trouble and he’s turned to Hap and Leonard to ask a favour. It seems that Hanson’s granddaughter, Gadget, is holed up in a trailer in the middle of nowhere with her drug dealing boyfriend. Hanson has the idea that Gadget wants out, and he tried and failed to extract her. Now he wants Hap and Leonard to use their muscle to get his granddaughter back:

“I studied on this a moment, looked at Leonard. He gave me a small nod. I said, We’ll do it, but if she doesn’t want to come home, I don’t know what to tell you. That’s the case, we bring her back, she’ll just run off again.’?

“I understand that,” Marvin said. “But I saw something in her eyes before she got pulled away. She wanted to come home. I’m not sure she knows it outright, but I could tell.”

“I don’t trust things you see in people’s eyes,” I said. “You might be seeing your own reflection.”

This simple favour for an old friend soon lands Hap and Leonard into some very serious business, and they find themselves stuck in the middle of a mess involving stolen money, a protected witness and an FBI sting. In shaking up some gormless drug dealers, Hap and Leonard run foul of the Dixie Mafia, and the doors to hell open wide with a professional hit woman known as Vanilla Ride on their trail.

Vanilla Ride is a wonderful read and is certain to please fans of the series, but if you haven’t read the others yet, don’t despair, you can start here and back up later. Hap and Leonard’s long-term friendship often resonates with the familiarity of an old married couple. They survive in a world in which conventional morality fails, police who “uphold” the law are on the take, and Hap and Leonard–a couple of latter-day cowboys must once again solve their problems by operating outside of legal systems.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 29 readers
PUBLISHER: Knopf (June 30, 2009)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
EXTRAS: Excerpt MostlyFiction interview with Joe R. Lansdale
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Hap & Leonard Series:





Hap Collins / Leonard Pine series:

July 23, 2009 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2009 Favorites, Humorous, Noir, Sleuths Series, Texas, Wild West, y Award Winning Author

One Response

  1. Poornima - July 24, 2009


    So good to see you back in action again!


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