I first discovered Lansdale through his horror fiction, and he quickly became one of my favorite writers. In fact, he is without question one of the best living authors of any genre. Though he still writes horror, he does not limit himself by any stretch of the imagination. Some writers might have difficulty transitioning from one genre to the next, and thus the work suffers. This has never been the case for Lansdale. Whether it’s weird western, mystery, suspense, whatever, it’s all top-shelf. He could write a geometry textbook and make it interesting. This brings me to his definitely not horror (yet sometimes strange) Hap and Leonard series, and most specifically the most recent book in this series: Honky Tonk Samurai.
Is Honky Tonk Samurai the best (or least best) of the Hap and Leonard series? I cannot confirm nor deny this, as I have only read a few of them. Eventually I’ll have read them all…I swear! What I can say is that, much like the other Hap and Leonard books I have read, this is an enjoyable ride following the antics of some very entertaining and likable characters. Now, I’m not just talking about the two lead characters and the rapport they have with each other (I love the banter Lansdale writes between these two best friends as well as the banter with other characters). I’m also talking about the scum of the earth characters these guys are often up against (and sometimes in cahoots with, as is the case with the character of Booger in this book). Lansdale manages to make detestable characters funny and, yes, sometimes a little bit likable, though not to the point that you’re not glad if they end up kicking the bucket. I also still believe Leonard is one of the coolest and most unique gay characters in fiction.
I’ve managed to read many of the Hap and Leonard novels out of sequence, and what’s nice about the way Lansdale has written these books is that, for the most part, this doesn’t make a huge difference. Though there are certain minor plot threads and relationships that are referenced over multiple books, you don’t necessarily have to have read the whole series to enjoy how those elements weave themselves into the current book (though, naturally, I imagine they would be even more rewarding if you did read them in proper sequence). That being said, a cliffhanger occurs at the end of Honky Tonk Samurai that almost indicates this book could be the end of the series. However, I think a cliffhanger is all it is, and there will likely (hopefully) be another Hap and Leonard book coming in the next couple of years. I’d be really shocked if that wasn’t the case.
As a side note, if you haven’t watched the Hap and Leonard series on Sundance yet, you’re dropping the ball big time. It nails the vibe of these books perfectly, and the casting is spot on so far (especially for the two leads). Season 2 starts in March.
You can’t go wrong if you pick up any book by Lansdale. You’re guaranteed to be entertained, whether its due to the dark humor, action, violence, and/or sheer skill of storytelling. So why not start with Honky Tonk Samurai? Just make sure you start somewhere.