September 16, 2013

Murder and Bigots and Bears, Oh My!: a review of Joe R. Lansdale's "The Two-Bear Mambo"

The Two-Bear Mambo (Hap & Leonard #3)
by Joe R. Lansdale
Mysterious Press (1995)
284 pages
ISBN-13: 9780892964918

Grovetown is a tiny easy Texas town sprung from the imagination of Joe R. Lansdale, and an astonishing wellspring of dyed-in-the-wool racists that Hap and Leonard must wade through in order to find a mutual acquaintance. I'd swear such a town couldn't exist in this day and age, but then again, Barrack Obama becoming President sure did bring that simmering bigotry right out into the daylight. I can picture the residents of Grovetown absolutely blowing their gaskets to hear a black man became the leader of the free world. I mean, the way they lose it when Leonard shows up and doesn't suffer their bull, their addled brains would likely melt and ooze out their ears at the news.

Anyway, Hap and Leonard have tangled with some tough hombres in the two previous novels, but throw in outright hatred, and the two best friends have the deck doubly stacked against them. Hap instantly has a bad feeling about it, because the fella asking him and Leonard to check up on her is the same guy she dumped him for in the first place, a detective no less. Since Hap and Leonard owe the surly cop a favor anyway, and Hap wants to see her again anyway, they pack the car and head out to Copperhead Springs and all its scenery.

The tiny town is ugly to look at though, a low-lying patch of dirt that's seen its share of flooding near the Bottoms, but it ain't half as ugly as the minds of those living there with the deep-seeded ignorance and intolerance that would seem cartoonish to outsiders. Leonard is barely healed up from the last time he got in a near-death altercation, but still marches fists first into the next one with the local yokels take exception to his less-than-lilly-white complexion. And things just get worse for the two men when it looks more and more like Florida has run afoul of the same type of fate that sent her on a crusade in the first place--and Hap and Leonard are shaping up to join her at the rate they're going.

If it wasn't for the internet and the wretched displays of intolerance it has offered to my genteel nature--ain't that rich--Copperhead Springs might be too over-the-top in its portrayal of bigotry. Lansdale pretty much nails it in my estimation, contextualizing the ugliness of it through the actions and words of both sides. As much as there's a mystery about what happened to Florida, the question of how beat up and broke down Hap and Leonard are going to be by the end of the novel is even more intriguing.

Just damned good stuff with maybe the best fight scenes I've read in a while.

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