Joe Lansdale’s not quite dynamic duo of Hap and Leonard have grown to be a series favorite. Their friendship is strong and believable, particularly when irritating each other, and is the kind we hope to have if we don’t already. Joe understands the two in both their consistencies and contradictions. He puts his understanding of them to good use in the latest misadventure, Jack Rabbit Smile.
The book begins at a turning point in Hap’s life, a reception cookout right after his marriage to the beautiful and smart Brett. The good time takes a turn for trouble when Thomas Mulhaney and his mother Judith. two white supremacist Pentecostals, show up. Not initially knowing that the black and gay (also Republican) Leonard is one of the operatives for Brett’s detective agency, they want to hire them to find Thomas’ sister Jackie, aka Jack Rabbit. While not caring for the brother and mother, they want to help Jack Rabbit, and they could use some cash flow. The search takes Hap and Leonard back to Hap’s hometown where The Professor, a cult leader out to build a white utopia, is buying up the land. He also has some hired goons, some Hap’s old enemies, to keep figuring out about Jack Rabbit.
Lansdale has hit an interesting stride in the series that works perfectly for fans. While there is the action and pulp style you’ve come to expect, Joe puts complete faith in his characters. We get to enjoy that wedding cook out for a few pages before the Mulhaneys crash it along with the plot. He allows Hap and Leonard to talk and comment about what is going on or just happened before the next fight or reveal. That said, he provides a good detective plot for strong narrative drive. The result is an easy going story told with forward momentum. It doesn’t rush to the finish, but it never slows down.
The plot also entwines perfectly with the social issues that propel the story just as equally. He dives into strong commentary on race and religion. This is one of the few times where discussing the themes could allude to the spoilers, because they are so well fused to the the tale. Even though he rails against the narrow mindedness of society and their institutions, he sees hope in the individuals who break through the barriers that are putting up, proving their lack of true existence.
Hap and Leonard endure as protagonists because they break those rules and champion others who due. They are even willing to get their souls dirty for justice. They are working class heroes in the best sense of the term and Lansdale proves John Lennon’s belief that that’s something to be.