Thursday, March 24, 2016

Review of Honky Tonk Samurai by Joe Lansdale (2016, Mulholland Books)

Always ready to stand up for those that need help, Hap and Leonard intervene to save a dog from a beating.  From across the street an old woman films them letting the owner know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a thrashing.  Their friend and employer, Marvin, shows up and reveals he’s the new chief of police.  Given his new job he needs to sell on his private investigator business and he figures Hap and Leonard are the perfect buyers.  Having worked manual, casual jobs for years they’re not so sure, but Brett, Hap’s partner is fed up of nursing and wants to give it a go.  Their first day as the new owners the old woman who filmed them shows up wanting them to find her granddaughter, Sandy, who disappeared five years earlier, using the film to negotiate a hefty discount.  After taking a journalism degree, Sandy went to work at a classic car dealership that appears to be a front for organised crime.  Hap and Leonard take on the case and soon stir-up a hornet’s nest.  This time they might have taken on more than they can chew, but as usual their determined to administer their own brand of justice.

Honky Tonk Samurai is the eleventh book in the Hap and Leonard series.  It has the same hallmarks as the earlier books: a witches brew of colourful characters, crackling dialogue, strong action sequences, and a decent sense of place and context.  And as usual, the real pleasure is in the likeable characters of Hap and Leonard and their relationship, and Lansdale’s unique voice.  However, for me, the tale and the telling didn’t quite live up to earlier outings, especially the first few books.  The story was linear and involved little detective work, and elements of the plot didn’t seem to sit quite right.  Whereas the other books are tightly paced in this outing there are some sizable chunks of dialogue that little move the story forward (even the characters tell each other to stop rambling).  The result is an undulating plot of lulls between some nice action set pieces.  Moreover, some main characters and key aspects of the story remain off-stage.  My sense was too much of the plot was about setting Hap and Leonard up in the private investigation business, moving new characters into their personal lives, and reuniting them with characters from earlier in the series.  Nonetheless, Lansdale’s brilliant way with words and the usual hallmarks makes Honky Tonk Samurai an entertaining and enjoyable read.

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