There are few authors like Joe R. Lansdale still writing today. His work often centers on characters in East Texas, his home turf, but he writes in a multitude of different genres with great success. He has written horror classics, like Act of Love and The Nightrunners, as well as strange classics like Freezer Burn and The Drive-In series. My favorites from the author are his “hillbilly crime” books (not my label, but oddly enough it fits) like Cold in July, Lost Echoes, and Leather Maiden. He is probably best known for writing the novella that the film Bubba Ho-Tep is based on, and his best work lies in the masterpiece that is The Bottoms. A lot of his books have been optioned to be turned into films, like A Fine Dark Line, Cold in July, and big names like Greg Nicotero and Bill Paxton are attached to The Drive-In and The Bottoms. Despite all of this, however, my favorite works from him are the ever-eventful Hap and Leonard books, which include 8 full length novels, and two novellas. The latest novella, Dead Aim, finds the East Texas tough guys doing what they do best, getting paid to do something they think will be easy, but turns out to be a wild adventure all its own.
Anyone picking up Dead Aim as their first introduction to Hap and Leonard are doing themselves a disservice. Not that you can’t read the novella by itself, but it is best enjoyed after fully understanding the long relationship between Hap and Leonard, and now, Hap’s girlfriend Brett, what they’ve been through together, and why exactly they are such wise-asses. Hap and Leonard have a storied history together, and the supporting characters, like Marvin Hanson, and Jim Bob Luke. The joy of a Hap and Leonard story is getting to see your old friends once again, the quick-witted humor of the two wise-ass friends, and the often action-packed exploits they tend to stumble into. While some stories are more action-based than others (like in Rumble Tumble, where many a foe meets a gory, Expendables-style ending), they are all fun to read. While Lansdale has long teased Blue to the Bone, a full-length Hap and Leonard adventure for some time, he has recently brought the characters back in the full length novels Vanilla Ride and Devil Red.
More recently, though, he has brought the characters to life in shorter novellas, resulting in brief, but entertaining adventures for the duo. His latest, Dead Aim, finds Hap and Leonard as hired hands to watch over a woman going through what seems to be a nasty divorce from her bitter husband, however, as is the usual with Hap and Leonard, they get more than they bargained for. Using their unique set of skills, which includes masterful martial arts and some damn fine shooting, they often manage to get themselves out of trouble, all while Hap is busy figuring out how they got into it in the first place.
My biggest complaint with Dead Aim is the fact that the book is so short, clocking in at under 100 pages, that things barely get going before they’re over. For fans of the characters, a small taste is better than nothing, but in the end, it only makes me salivate for more adventures with two of my favorite characters of all time. Filled with strange East Texas low-lifes, the classic Hap and Leonard banter that you come to expect from the two, and a quickly twisting plot, it’s a classic story involving my favorite characters, it’s just too damn short. When that’s the biggest complaint that can be made, it’s a pretty big compliment to the author. At this stage in his career, Joe R. Lansdale has dispensed with the niceties, he’s writing for his fans and admirers of good fiction everywhere, and Dead Aim proves he has yet to lose a step, continuing to put out quality work at a feverish pace. Now, all I can do is revisit his past classics while I wait for him to finish up another one.