Series to Start Now: Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard Mysteries

James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams in Hap and Leonard (2016)/Photo by James Minchin/SundanceTV

Leonard Pine and Hap Collins are tight. The two men have known each other most of their lives, lives that on the surface couldn’t be more different. Leonard Pine is black, a Republican who is proud of his conservative views and of his service in Vietnam. And he’s gay. Hap is white. He burned his draft card in the 1960s, opposed the Vietnam War and went to jail for it, votes for Democrats, and is a dog when it comes to women. In our fractious age, Hap and Leonard wouldn’t even be friends on Facebook, but Joe R. Lansdale has written a series in which the two of them are best friends, closer than a pair of brothers.

The series opens in the 1980s. Hap and Leonard are working as day-laborers, but prior to this gig, they had both held a series of short-term jobs. And yet, despite the restlessness they exhibit, they have remained in East Texas, in the fictional town of LaBorde (although attentive readers are given lots of clues as to where the town would be on a map). Both men have a strong moral sense of what is right and what is wrong, and though neither of them have any formal training as detectives, it turns out they have great skills for tracking down the folks who are committing bad acts. In the course of the eleven books in the series so far, they will tangle with biker gangs, the Dixie Mafia, a professional Mob assassin, and a passel of local n’er-do-wells who make their money off the backs of enslaved women, or drugs, or dog-fighting, or murder-for-hire.

And while the mysteries that the duo solve in every book are intriguing, it is Hap and Leonard’s hilarious relationship that keeps me reading. They keep me laughing because when they’re not saving folks in bad situations, they are, as the English say, “taking the piss” out of each other. The two bicker all the time. Their arguments and good-natured joshing are not over politics or the state of the world (although they do discuss these things), they’re sometimes over Leonard’s addiction to all things vanilla, which means he’s always up for a box of Nilla Wafers and a six-pack of Dr. Pepper and Hap is always up for hiding them or messing with Leonard’s stash. But they also discuss Hap’s inability to walk away from a situation that involves “rescuing” a woman from a bad situation. Leonard thinks that Hap is a dog and he gives him a lot of grief over it. Hap tells readers that he notices the way a woman looks and smells but readers will also come to understand that Hap is supremely loyal to the woman he loves. And Leonard is also in search of true love, but in East Texas, finding men who are “out” is not easy, which has led Leonard to get involved with men who turn out to hate their own sexuality.

Leonard has an anger issue that gets especially triggered by bullies. Sometimes, that means Hap and Leonard get dragged into a case when somebody powerful is picking on someone weaker, and nothing makes them more angry than people who are cruel to animals. Leonard’s views on whether it’s the government’s job to protect the weak may seem a contradiction given the oppression he has experienced in his own lifetime, but what becomes clear is that what he objects to is Hap’s explanations. That is, he hates it when Hap wants to hold black people to a lower standard than he holds white people. According to Leonard, Hap means well, but there are times when he assumes that institutionalized racism and sexism makes it impossible for someone to change their situation. This is the argument  that one might expect from a black conservative, the “respectability politics” written about here and which, like modern conservatism, harks back to a mythological past. In those moments, Hap and Leonard will argue about social issues in perhaps unfamiliar ways, but which can be located in intellectual debates. And, since the series begins in the 1980s and continues through to current day, their arguments reflect contemporaneous discussions.

They also love books and music, and their discussions of both will introduce readers to new songs or stories that they may want to check out.

I finished reading the entire series at the beginning of August, but I was delighted to find out that the twelfth Hap and Leonard novel, The Elephant of Surprise, will be out in March, 2019.

  • The cover of the book Savage Season

    Savage Season

    A Hap and Leonard Novel (1)

    The original Hap and Leonard story, which also comprises the first season of the Sundance series. Hap’s past comes back to bite him in the guise of his ex-wife, Trudy. When Trudy offers Hap and Leonard the opportunity to get in on something big, they agree to help her. Chaos ensues. 

  • The cover of the book Mucho Mojo

    Mucho Mojo

    A Hap and Leonard Novel (2)

    Leonard’s beloved Uncle Chester dies, and the old man leaves his house to his nephew. But while Hap and Leonard are cleaning out the house, they discover a secret hidden in the floorboards that reveals a dark tale that certain folks wish would stay hidden. 

  • The cover of the book The Two-Bear Mambo

    The Two-Bear Mambo

    A Hap and Leonard Novel (3)

    A legendary blues man met a bad end a long time ago, but recently, something priceless that belonged to him has surfaced. When Leonard’s lawyer, Florida, goes to investigate what’s been found, she disappears. Leonard and Hap go in search of her and find themselves in a town that would prefer that Jim Crow was still the law of the land. 

  • The cover of the book Bad Chili

    Bad Chili

    A Hap and Leonard Novel (4)

    Leonard’s romantic past becomes present when the man who stole Leonard’s boyfriend turns up dead in a ditch and missing his head. Leonard is the prime suspect, and in order to clear his name, Hap and Leonard will have to go up against a nasty bike gang. 

  • The cover of the book Rumble Tumble

    Rumble Tumble

    A Hap and Leonard Novel (5)

    When Hap and Leonard set out for Hootie Hoot, Oklahoma to rescue a damsel in distress, readers know that whatever is about to happen will involve mayhem, hilarity, and gun thugs. But Hap is also in the midst of a midlife crisis, which causes him to question the life he’s chosen. Can Leonard count on Hap to always have his back? 

  • The cover of the book Captains Outrageous

    Captains Outrageous

    A Hap and Leonard Novel (6)

    Hap and Leonard fans know that Leonard appreciates a fine hat. And when the two of them end up on a cruise ship as a reward for a good deed, Leonard’s choice of headgear brings trouble raining down on both their heads. By the time the armadillo shows up, things have gone way beyond weird. 

  • The cover of the book Vanilla Ride

    Vanilla Ride

    Leonard’s decision to rescue a lost teenager leads Hap and Leonard to a confrontation with the notorious Dixie Mafia. And as if that doesn’t get their adrenaline pumping, they start hearing about a slick assassin who is known only as “Vanilla Ride.” Leonard’s love for all things vanilla never anticipated this flavor of vanilla, however. 

  • The cover of the book Devil Red

    Devil Red

    Leonard’s new hat is a deerstalker in order to prove that he’s a serious private detective. He and Hap will need all of their deductive powers when they notice that a string of murders are accompanied by images of devils. By the time they meet the cult of vampires, they start to wonder just how far into hell they will have to go in order to find the killers. 

  • The cover of the book Honky Tonk Samurai

    Honky Tonk Samurai

    Hap and Leonard have seen a lot of brutality against human beings in their time, and it makes them angry. But when they witness a man viciously beating his dog, their anger becomes incandescent, which lands them in trouble. The key to clearing their names is the video shot by the nosy neighbor lady, but she won’t hand over the video unless they do her a favor. And as they always find out, no good deed goes unpunished. 

  • The cover of the book Rusty Puppy

    Rusty Puppy

    When a straight-A student, a young black man named Jamar, is beaten to death inside the projects, the cops claim he was selling drugs. But when Jamar’s grandmother approaches Hap and Leonard, she tells them that she has proof that Jamar was murdered by the police. Hap and Leonard’s investigation brings them up against bad guys who love to turn their enemies into “rusty puppies.”

  • The cover of the book Jackrabbit Smile

    Jackrabbit Smile

    When white supremacists show up on Hap’s wedding day, he and Leonard assume they’ve come looking for trouble. But it turns out that they’re looking for “Jackrabbit,” the member of their family who has disappeared. As they set out to find her, Hap and Leonard discover that Jackrabbit has many reasons to not want to be found, and Hap and Leonard have to decide whether the right thing to do is to reveal her hiding place.