Written by Joe R Lansdale — In his afterword for this book, Joe R Lansdale describes Blood and Lemonade as a mosaic novel somewhat in the manner of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. It’s a collection of stories, that might move back or forward in time, but when taken together gives you a thematic overview of a person or place. What that means in this instance is 14 stories narrated by Hap Collins, in the presence of his (spiritual) brother Leonard Pine, Hap’s wife Brett, and their child Chance. The stories describe Hap’s upbringing in East Texas, and the beginning of his life-long friendship with Leonard.
The Hap and Leonard series is one of the best liked and most consistent of the last two decades. If you haven’t read any of them, you might have read our appreciation of Savage Season, the first in the series. Or, you might have seen the American TV series starring James Purefoy, Christina Hendricks, and Michael K Williams, now about to enter it’s second season.
Hap and Leonard are unlikely friends, but friends nevertheless. They both grew up in East Texas, and both are outsiders. Leonard is black, gay, and politically conservative. Hap is white, straight, and liberal, and served time rather than serve in Vietnam. What links them, other than their outsider status, is a shared moral sensibility, an inability to mind their own business, and the fighting skills to get themselves out of trouble. It is the two characters’ friendship alongside Lansdale’s humour and ear for comedy which has given the series its longevity.
The 14 stories in Blood and Lemonade are narrated in the present day, but all relate to events prior to Savage Season. Most of them are original, but a couple have been published previously in hard-to-find anthologies. They take the form of Hap and (usually) Leonard reminiscing about their early lives, starting when they were teenagers. Tire Fire, the second story, details their first meeting; Hap was out hunting at night with a school friend when he came across a fight under a bridge. A young black man – Leonard – has challenged a group of young white boys to a fight, and has made short order of the first two, but the mood is going sour and Leonard won’t stand a fair chance if the group turns on him en masse. Both Hap and his friend Roger can see the danger, but only Hap is prepared to stand up for the stranger, even though he knows he might be making trouble for himself further down the line.
In Not our Kind, that trouble finds Hap after a gang of boys threaten him for being a ‘nigger-lover’. This time it is Leonard who provides back up, and this is really when the boys become friends.
The longest story in the book is In the River of the Dead, and reads the closest to the novels. Hap and Leonard are out fishing together and when their boat breaks down they have to make camp for the night. It is their misfortune that they are spotted by a hillbilly family out on the river at night to recover a stolen shipment of heroin sunk in the river after a double-cross. The boys may be relatively wet behind the ears but they know there is no way they are going to be allowed to leave once they have recovered the drugs. This story, with its memorable villains, crude language and daring action, was the one that most made me want to pick up one of the novels again.
All the writing is as you would expect from a seasoned pro like Lansdale, but the brevity of some of the stories (or perhaps they should be called chapters) makes it hard for him to really let loose and show off his skills. For long-time admirers of the author like me, Blood and Lemonade is a delightful addition to the novels and a much welcome answer to the mystery of how their friendship developed. If you are new to crime fiction’s oddest couple, I would first refer you to the books starting with Savage Season. You’ll love these books, and will surely find your way to Blood and Lemonade down the line.
Blood and Lemonade arrives 14 March. Also new from Joe R Lansdale is Rusty Puppy, the new Hap and Leonard novel.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars