Joe R. Lansdale,
(Subterranean Press, 2011)

There's this guy, Chet Williamson. Real good writer, you should check him out sometime. Good friend of mine, too; he and I were in a band together for a spell, and we talked a lot over the years about writers he knew and admired. One he always mentioned -- and always affected a grade-A Texas accent while doing so -- was Joe R. Lansdale.

Now, I read a Lansdale book back in '03, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed Zeppelins West at the time. But I never really looked up the author again, despite Chet's many recommendations. Well, last week Chet was talking about him again -- the context involved a writer's convention at which they both were guests, and another author who shall not be named who drunkenly fell down an embankment while pissing alongside the airport shuttle bus -- and then, boom, this ARC appeared in my mail and I just had to read it.

Hyenas is a very short novel. Maybe a novella, or a novelette, I never really learned to distinguish between them. But at 104 pages, it's a pretty fast read. It features Hap and Leonard, a pair of very quirky characters you could tell right away have appeared in Lansdale's work before. Doesn't matter, though -- I never felt much like I needed a formal introduction or detailed biography of the men. It all just sort of falls into place.

Hap and Leonard are fighting men, by which I mean they know how to throw a punch and, perhaps more importantly, take a punch, and they seem to work very hard at being in situations where there's punching going on. This book begins in the aftermath of a brawl in which Leonard did a lot of punching and, while the reader isn't actually there for the action, it was one of the most amusing brawls I've ever been a party to. One of the men who made the acquaintance of Leonard's fists ends up hiring the two men to lend him a hand; he needs some beefy muscle to help pry his younger brother away from a posse of bad elements before things get deadly.

There will be fisticuffs and gunplay before the tale is ended.

But as violent as this story is, it's not the action that carries the story. Lansdale has a knack for dialogue, and the fast-paced repartee between Hap and Leonard is prime material. I'd love to know these guys, just so I could hear them talk.

The book also includes a very short story from Hap's youth. He doesn't beat anyone up this time around, but the story carries an emotional punch all the same.

This is the book that makes me want to get to know Lansdale a little better, too. Chet, do you have a book or two I could borrow? I'll return them in pristine condition, I swear.

Oh, speaking of books -- this one comes from Subterranean Press, which means it won't come cheap. Be warned, the "deluxe hardcover edition" retails at $25, which is a lot for 104 pages, but chances are fair it'll be reissued someday in a more affordable format.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Tom Knapp

13 November 2010

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