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Devil Red by Joe R Lansdale

The thing about chalk and cheese is that, if you get cheese that’s neither too soft nor too hard, you can use both substances to write on one of those old school blackboards. Now I know you’re thinking the cheese is just going to leave a greasy track like a snail who’s developed diarrhoea after eating a fatty beef patty but, in the right light, you’ll still be able to read what you wrote. Perhaps if you used Edam and left some of the paraffin wax protection on, there would be red streaks to show you the way. Never forget both chalk and cheese are useful in their own way. Until one of them gets shot, of course.

There’s this thing about Hap & Leonard novels as assembled by Joe R Lansdale. These guys come as a pair. Well, that’s perhaps not quite the right thing to say since only one of them is gay and they don’t sleep together in that way, if you get my meaning. But, as Frank Sinatra used to sing, “You can’t have one without the other”. It’s like they’re apples and oranges but both fruit. . . No, that doesn’t work well either.

Anyway, Devil Red starts in the usual way with Hap Collins and Leonard Pine debating with each other. The easiest way of understanding these existential discussions is to focus on the essentials. Neither of them has any real sense, yet they’re the most reliable men you could ever hope to meet if your back was to the wall and the wall was thinking of running out on you. They’re the nicest, most gentle and understanding of ruthless men you could ask for in a jam. In this case, they’ve gone to a part of town where even the mice belong to a gang for protection. They’re not wearing a hat and tie (mice don’t usually do that, anyway). Dressed for action not fashion, Marvin and his little old lady client have sent them to break a few bones. It’s a routine job and they’re just the kinda guys to get it done. Except Hap’s got a little PTSD after his shoot-out with Vanilla Ride and the accumulation of all the dead bodies he seems to leave in his wake (that’s the shipping metaphor not the funeral joke). His hands are shaking, he feels ethically challenged, and his reaction time’s sluggish. Even beating on two worthless human beings doesn’t improve his mood.

But once Marvin picks up a rich client who wants a double-homicide investigating, things start to move along fast enough for Hap to loosen up and get back into the swing of things (and not just with a baseball bat). With Leonard a fan of Sherlock Holmes and now inclined to wear a deerstalker hat whenever the game’s afoot (which is actually Shakespeare rather than Conan Doyle, but no-one cares about such trivial details today), they start beating the grass and rattling the bars of as many cages as they can find, hoping someone will give them a clue on whodunnit.

Joe Lansdale reminds himself how good Devil Red is.

Sadly, this does provoke a shooting but, because Leonard has to come back for the next outing in the series, what with there being no-one in prospect for a Hap & Son sequel, Lansdale has our indefatigable sleuth hooked up to life-support in an ICU until he manages a smile at the end. Of course, shooting Leonard is not something up with which Hap will put. He’s now properly motivated to cut to the chase and find lots of people to kill. There’s just one problem. He doesn’t know who to start shooting. Fortunately, a blast from the past is able to point him in the right direction and vengeance, Texas style, is laid out on the BBQ with plenty of hot chili sauce.

This is Joe Lansdale maintaining the fine run of form he started in Vanilla Ride, producing a genuinely amusing riff on the usually stolid PI tropes. Our two heroes, with a little help from girl-friend and newspaper contacts, crack the case and some heads in their search for the truth, justice and the Texan way. Many die or are wounded on the way, but this has always been the price of admission to a Hap & Leonard novel. Devil Red is definitely worth seeking out and reading.

Here are reviews of the last Hap & Leonard novel, Vanilla Ride a novella Hyenas and two free-standing novels: Edge of Dark Water and The Thicket.

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