Written by: Wayne C. Rogers
It was eight long years between the last Hap Collins and Leonard Pine novel, Captains Outrageous, and the new one, Vanilla Ride. I hope it’s never that long again between Hap/Leonard books. Of course, during that time Mr. Lansdale wrote some of the best American literature that’s come out of the state of Texas–A Fine Dark Line and Sunset and Sawdust–along with a number of western novels, some fantasy, a ton of short story collections, and a number of mainstream thriller novels such as Lost Echoes and Leather Maidens. This is an author who can write in any genre he chooses and do it like a true master of the written word. Still, I need my Hap/Leonard fix on a somewhat regular basis. Even a novella will do, and Joe has recently written two of those (Hyenas & Dead Aim).
Now, what about Vanilla Ride?
Was it worth the eight-year wait?
Yes, it was! I personally thought it was the best Hap/Leonard novel that Joe had ever written. This was a book I couldn’t put down. It had me laughing out loud in a dozen places, not to mention wanting to hide out when characters like the Big Guy came appeared on the scene. I couldn’t have asked for a truer Hap/Leonard tale than Vanilla Ride to make up for all the lost years away from the boys. I wanted to sit down with the boys and have some vanilla wafers and a couple of Dr. Peppers with them. I wanted to talk about those missing years and what had been happening with them.
Well, Vanilla Ride begins when Leonard and ex-homicide detective, Marvin Hanson, show up at Hap’s house. Hap is in the middle of having some fun with his buxom, redheaded girlfriend, Brett, and has to quickly slip into his bathrobe and bunny slippers to let his buddies into the house. It seems that Marvin’s granddaughter has taken up with the wrong, drug-dealing crowd, and Marvin would like Hap and Leonard’s assistance in getting her back. Being that Marvin’s an ex-cop and still wounded from a recent injury, there’s little he can do to help in the process, other than to offer his good blessings.
That’s enough for our two crime solvers. After being stagnant for several months, they’re ready for a little action and getting the granddaughter out of the hands of some drug-dealing trailer trash doesn’t sound too difficult. And, it isn’t. Hap and Leonard kick butt and take names, flushing all the drugs they find down the toilet, and in the process, rescuing Marvin’s granddaughter.
That, however, isn’t the end of it.
What Hap and Leonard soon discover is that the small operation belonged to the Dixie Mafia, and the big, mean, guys at the top don’t like their people being messed with by a couple of red-neck cowboys. They send their C and B list of enforcers to take care of Hap and Leonard, but a lot of people end up dead and it isn’t our two wayward heroes. That’s when the duo is offered a deal by the local police and the F.B.I. to help bring down the Dixie Mafia.
Of course, Hap and Leonard can’t expect any help from the authorities, but if they want to stay out of jail for killing the bad guys, then they need to take the offer and to run with it as fast as they can. This will cause them to have to some of the meanest and most violent criminals of their career, especially one man named Big Guy, who scared the dickens out of me.
If these guys can’t handle Hap and Leonard, well, there’s the ultimate killing machine, Vanilla Ride, who always completes her contracts to the Mob. No one has ever gotten away from her alive, but then again, this is Hap and Leonard, and she’s never encountered anything like these two wisecracking guys who don’t seem to take anything too seriously, even their lives. Still, both men may have met their match with the Dixie Mafia and Vanilla Ride.
As I mentioned to someone else a couple of days ago, reading Vanilla Ride was more fun than rolling down a hill with a bunch of armadillos. I started laughing the minute Leonard noticed his friend’s bunny slippers and started making sarcastic remarks about them. This is pure Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson banter, and nobody could play Hap and Leonard better than these two actors.
With regards to the book and the series, perhaps nobody can better capture the southeast portion of Texas better than Joe R. Lansdale with its continuous energy, its people, and the utter sense of melancholy that seems to permeate the poorer sections of the state.
Also, Joe throws our two fabulous characters right in the middle of all of this, allowing the reader a glimpse into a world of laughter and killing that only a Texan would understand. The author shows us what true friendship means by accepting someone and all of their strengths and weaknesses into your life, protecting their back as they protect yours.
Joe R. Lansdale is the Edgar Rice Burroughs and Louis L’Amore of the 21st Century in his ability to tell a good yarn that stays with you long after the story has ended. Joe knows the meaning of entertaining his readers and never forgets that one very important fact when offering insights that deal with racism, homosexuality, the government with all of its false promises, and a friendship that outshines everything else.
The Hap/Leonard series is some of the best writing in America today, and after reading a couple of their books, you too will want to sit down with them for some vanilla wafers and Dr. Pepper. But pray that you don’t hog the cookies and soda because Leonard will quickly put you in your place while Hap sits there with a big grin on his face, thinking about Brett and the night ahead. This is highly recommended to those readers with an unusual sense of the world and an oddball sense of humor.
Visit this link to grab Vanilla Ride now.