DEAD AIM by Joe R. Lansdale
Joe Lansdale’s latest book snuck up on me. I didn’t know it was already out until I tripped across it yesterday on Amazon. I downloaded the ebook and tucked in, instantly transported to East Texas crime noir with series heroes Hap Collins and Leonard Pine.
I’ve been reading the Hap and Leonard books for a long time, since actually meeting Joe at a Dallas comics convention back in the 1990s. As always, the story reflects a Gold Medal crime novel sensibility with larger-than-life heroes and villains, a meaty plot with twists and turn, and plenty of action.
Lansdale’s characters aren’t your typical heroes by any stretch of the imagination, and East Texas and small towns aren’t the usual background for crime stories. Unless you’ve been around East Texas or small towns, you’ll probably be just as at home as reading a book set on Mars. The places Lansdale takes you are just that far off the beaten path.
Dead Aim is a novella, and I’m not quite sure how many words it is, but I spent an hour at it and I read fast, so there’s a lot in those pages (or pixels, however you’re reading it).
The story comes at you like a fastball. Hap and Leonard are hired through their ex-cop buddy Marvin to protect a woman from her soon-to-be ex-husband. Seems a standard chore for Hap and Leonard, and they even go out to get a new axe handle to use during the job because the ex-husband is a big ol’ boy, big enough to go bear hunting with a switch, as they used to say down in my neck of the woods. Hap immediately names the axe handle Agnes because he’s sentimental that way.
Things go south in this story pretty quickly when it turns out the soon-to-be ex-husband isn’t the threat everybody thought he was. But things also get more interesting because Hap and Leonard – true to their natures – keep poking around things till they find the beehive. Then things turn deadly.
The dialogue in this novella is awesome to me, and probably what most other folks would consider off-color at best. But I’ve known guys like Hap and Leonard all my life, and they would talk just like Hap and Leonard do, and struggle to keep their lives just as simple. Still, some readers are bound to be offended.
The twists and turns are well done, nothing completely unique in the formula, but Hap and Leonard are involved and that puts a fresh slant on everything. I like the fact that they’re growing into the Texas troubleshooter business they’ve been kind of sidestepping ever since they got into the act. But Hap’s prowess with a gun (first evidenced in Vanilla Ride) has kicked him a notch closer to gunfighter status, and I hope it doesn’t become a staple of the series. I much prefer the Hap that likes to take a moment and thinks things through before he acts. After all, he’s got mad martial arts skills when provoked.
Glen Orbik’s cover is absolutely a dream. He also provided the cover for Hyenas, the other Hap and Leonard novella that’s been released so far.