DEVIL RED by Joe R. Lansdale

Book Quote:

“The whole area wasn’t exactly what you’d call a great place to hang out. You did, there was a chance they’d find you the next morning in a ditch with your throat cut, your pockets turned inside out, and sperm in your ass, or perhaps a sharp instrument. It was the kind of place where the mice belonged to gangs.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (APR 24, 2011)

Fans of author Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series will not be disappointed in the latest novel, Devil Red. For those unfamiliar with the series (and it’s not necessary to read them in sequence in order to understand what’s going on), Hap and Leonard are two East Texas, tough working-class men who make a dubious living through various odds jobs. Hap, the narrator of the tales is white, and his sidekick Leonard is gay and black. Their friendship is firmly deep-rooted, and yet they often approach problems from different angles. Basically these are “buddy” books set against the backdrop of dark crime which is alleviated by outrageous humor. If Hap and Leonard ever tried their hand at show biz, they’d make great stand-up comics.

The last novel, Vanilla Ride found our two hapless heroes trying to do a “good deed” and getting mixed up in the business of the Dixie Mafia. This leads to hell unleashed by a legendary hit-woman known as Vanilla Ride. Although Hap and Leonard survive, it’s a deeply unsettling encounter for Hap.

Devil Red finds Hap and Leonard now somewhat steadily employed as investigators. Ex-cop Marvin Hanson has opened a PI agency, and naturally that means that Hap and Leonard will do the dirty work. The dirty work involves poking around in a cold murder case in a young man named Ted Christopher and his girlfriend, Mini were shot and their bodies dumped on a hiking trail. There are no suspects and very few clues. It seems to be a random killing, but then Hap and Leonard connect Mini to a horrific murder committed by the repulsive Evil Lynn–a delusional, now imprisoned psycho who thinks she is a vampire. Evil Lynn and her friends formed a cult known as The Children of the Night, but the group disbanded after her arrest for murder. Hoping for a connection to the murders of Ted Christopher and Mini, Hap and Leonard begin digging around into the so-called vampire murder Evil Lynn committed, and they uncover a trail of death….

There are new characters of course, along with a few familiar characters who resurface in this tale. To give names would spoil some of the fun for readers, so let’s just say there’s a putrid pile of scumbags floating to the top of Hap and Leonard’s world in the form of both old and new enemies. As usual, the tale is peppered with Hap and Leonard’s crude humor, so if you prefer your books tame and profanity-free, keep walking. But if you’re like me, you’ll find Hap and Leonard’s potty mouths refreshing and even inspiring. In other books in the series, the humor alleviated the violence, but in Devil Red, I’d say the violence wins. As usual, Lansdale has a mean eye when it comes to character description. Here’s Hap and Leonard visiting a newspaper office:

“There were reporters around, but fewer than I had imagined. There was also an advertising department. One of the women who worked there was overweight and frumpy with piss-blonde hair that looked to have been made by electricity and a sense of humor. She was wearing a too-short top that showed a lot of belly and a silver belly ring. She had on shorts that showed way too much ass and on the ass was a tattoo that looked like something an arthritic chicken had scratched in the dirt while dying.

My take is you can dress any way you want, but my amendment to that is that you have to have mirrors at your house, and you have to use them, and you must not lie to yourself about what they show.”

In Vanilla Ride, Hap struggles with his conscience in the aftermath of the violence he commits, and that theme returns with a vengeance in Devil Red. To Leonard, the choices he makes are simple, but Hap’s conscience, stoked by his growing nesting instinct with long-term girlfriend, Brett, keeps him awake at nights. One of the core themes of Lansdale’s East Texas Noir series is that conventional morality doesn’t apply to the situations Hap and Leonard face. There are systems (such as the Dixie Mafia, for example) that operate outside the law, and the law that is supposed in rein in the bad guys is so penetrated with corruption, the good guys are forced to take matters into their own hands. For Hap and Leonard, it comes down to a matter of the ends justify the means. Leonard has no problem with that while Hap still lingers on the morality of his actions.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 22 readers
PUBLISHER: Knopf; First Edition edition (March 15, 2011)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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April 24, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Humorous, Sleuths Series, Texas, Thriller/Spy/Caper, y Award Winning Author

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