This collection compiles five short stories from the formative years of Joe R Lansdale’s unconventional scoundrels, right at the time when they’re forming the solid bond that stands them in good stead in later life. Like several other memorable pairings in crime fiction – Angel and Louis, Spenser and Hawk, Stoner and Stretch – Hap and Leonard superficially seem to have little in common; black, white, gay, straight; but together they make for an intimidating team.
Here they earn the spurs of adulthood at illicit fist-fights and in the hard-baked back alleys of East Texas. Their shared antipathy towards blank-faced discrimination might get Hap and Leonard into danger-laden scrapes but dextrous footwork, a bone-snapping jab and unshakeable loyalty are enough to extricate them from most predicaments… mostly intact. Most of the time.
Although I’m familiar with the characters, and have read a couple of the early full-length novels, I’m not an H&L devotee. A couple of the tales in this anthology didn’t mean much to me and I struggled to form a connection, but the others were solid romps of backwoods noir. I’m sure they’d have more significance to folk who’ve read the whole series.
This probably isn’t the best introduction to the characters, then. As a collection it’s somewhat unfocused and a tad self-indulgent. Lansdale’s regular readers may well love filling in the gaps in the characters’ back stories, but new readers would do better to start at the beginning of the series.
It’s also a relatively rapid read. I hate to measure literature by quantity rather than quality, and the writing is undeniably stylish, but the price of the paperback on initial publication is unusually high for such a slim volume.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Of Mice and Minestrone by Joe R Lansdale is available at Amazon