Get to Know a Series: Joe R. Lansdale and the Origins of Hap and Leonard

Joe R. Lansdale will be reading from his latest and signing selections from his substantial oevre at MysteryPeople’s upcoming Noir at the Bar event. Noir at the Bar meets at Opal Divine’s at Penn Field and gets started at 7 PM. Lansdale’s latest novel, Honky Tonk Samuraiis our MysteryPeople pick of the month for February. In honor of this momentous occasion, here’s a look back at the origins of Hap and Leonard…

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Joe Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard series is going strong and only getting stronger. Not only is there a new novel, Honky Tonk Samurai, there will soon be a collection of the short stories and novellas, a TV show debuting on the Sundance Channel March 2nd, and even a graphic novel. The lethal East Texas ex-hippie Hap and his even more formidable gay, black, Republican friend and partner-in-crime Leonard have entertained readers for a quarter of a century. The Lone Ranger & Tonto, Batman & Robin, and Wyatt Earp & Doc Holiday have nothing on them.

“The wildness and menacing nature of Lansdale’s villains plays to the core theme of the books: friendship. Hap and Leonard have a bond that neither danger nor darkness can break. It transcends race, politics, and sexuality. One reason the books have continued is that they tap into the reader’s wish for a friendship that can endure anything, especially time.”

They were supposed to appear on just one book, Savage Season. it was Joe’s ode to the Gold Medal paperback crime novels of the Fifties and Sixties. They share many elements from those stories- a femme fatale, buried loot from a bank robbery, and some tough guy action. The femme fatale is Trudy, Hap’s ex-wife from his activist days, who asks to help her and some radicals recover some money from a bank job at the bottom of a lake. Talked into it by the the old flame and old feelings from the Sixties, he agrees with the ever cynical Leonard along to have his back. As they get dunked, double-crossed, and shot at, Hap questions his old ideals, tapping into one of the series’ biggest themes, mortality.

Joe couldn’t shake “The Boys” (as he calls them), so he put them in Mucho Mojo and this is where the series truly began. Joe populates the book with several of the regulars, including private eye Marvin Hanson, originally a Houston police detective from his first book, Act Of Love; Cold In July‘s hillbilly bad-ass Jim Bob Luke, and the first of many women to cross Hap’s path (Hopefully, he’s settled down with Brett). They are all fun and colorful representations of the folks that populate East Texas.

“Joe has said that writing the Hap and Leonard books feels like taking a vacation. The same could be said for reading them. They are crazy, fast-moving road trips where anything could happen, but you have your good friends there to get you through any tough spots and share a few laughs. Here’s to future travels with the boys.”

The bad guys come close to being monsters from a horror novel. The boys have taken on the likes of the KKK, serial killers, red-neck pimps, and the Dixie Mafia. In the latest, Honky Tonk Samurai, Hap and Leonard encounter a tribe of inbred assassins with echoes of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. This rogues’-gallery-gone-to-hell is a fun house mirror, reflecting Southern and Texas troubles of violence, poverty, and racism.

The wildness and menacing nature of Lansdale’s villains plays to the core theme of the books: friendship. Hap and Leonard have a bond that neither danger nor darkness can break. It transcends race, politics, and sexuality. One reason the books have continued is that they tap into the reader’s wish for a friendship that can endure anything, especially time.

Joe has said that writing the Hap and Leonard books feels like taking a vacation. The same could be said for reading them. They are crazy, fast-moving road trips where anything could happen, but you have your good friends there to get you through any tough spots and share a few laughs. Here’s to future travels with the boys.

Come to Noir at the Bar on Tuesday, February 16th, for a reading and signing from the legendary Joe R. Lansdale. The event meets at Opal Divine’s at Penn Field and starts at 7 PM. Lansdale is joined by John Schulian, Jesse Sublett, and George Wier for the evening. Copies of each author’s latest will be available for purchase at the event. You can find all of Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard novels on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

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