by Joe R. Lansdale
Alfred A. Knopf (2011)
It's a tricky thing reading a book that's the eighth in a series, when you've only read the first book in that series so far. With Joe Lansdale's Devil Red, however, that's exactly what I did. I was expecting to be a fair bit lost, with a metric ton of backstory peppered through the book to the point where I wouldn't know if I was coming or going. I've only read and reviewed the first book in the Hap & Leonard series, Savage Season, just a couple of weeks ago (click here to read that review if you like). Fortunately, Lansdale keeps the focus on the story at hand, and what preexisting stuff comes up in the novel doesn't require having read the other seven books--but I'll bet it would have helped.
If you're not familiar with these characters, just picture a couple of good ol' boys from east Texas who are pretty rough and tumble, and make their money by working as pseudo-investigators/enforcers for a private investigator. It's nothing close to glamorous work, but it pays the bills, and they're good at it--even if they lack any real finesse.
The story starts out with Hap and Leonard roughing up a couple of local thugs that had robbed an elderly lady. They're grizzled and grumpy, but their also game for the confrontation in a way, even though the pay is crap. But something is nagging at Hap, in a kind of "I'm getting too old for this shit" way. Still, when the opportunity to work a cold case about a young woman's murder, which may be connected to a series of murders involving a vampire cult, Hap and Leonard don't spend too much time hesitating.
It's kind of an emotional roller coaster, as these two guys get put through the ringer. That might just be the way things are for these two, since they got worked over pretty good in the first novel. Still, there is a cumulative effect that seems to be present in this book that makes the proverbial meat grinder they are put through all the more imposing.
I could gripe about not knowing a couple of the characters that are returning from a previous book, but that's just comes with the territory since I haven't read the other books save one. At least Lansdale didn't make me think while reading that I really should have read the other books first. I will, however, be reading those books some time down the road, that's for sure.
The writing is gritty and plain-spoken, which suits the story to a tee. The dialog is fantastic and really funny in spots. The action is great and doesn't let up for very long, since it's only a two-hundred page novel. It's just a damned fun read. It's Lansdale.