Review

Vanilla Ride: A Hap and Leonard Novel

by Joe R. Lansdale

It is almost impossible to keep up with Joe R. Lansdale’s
literary output. He has been at it for nearly 30 years now,
starting with the novel ACT OF LOVE and a number of short stories.
He has written comics (you must read his Jonah Hex story arcs, one
of which demonstrated that a certain brotherly pair of blues
guitarists have no sense of humor), mysteries, horror novels,
action series, hardcore pornography, a children’s vampire
book and westerns. He publishes stories and novels in limited
editions as a matter of course, driving book collectors into fits
of joy and agony simultaneously. It is not so much a matter of
quantity, or the width and breadth of the territory he plows, that
makes Lansdale one of the most respected authors in contemporary
genre fiction. It is the consistent quality and readability of his
work that have garnered him accolades from all the corners that
matter.

Lansdale’s work trolls the dark shadows, the streets where
the buses don’t run, and the people who live in the shadows,
the ones you see but don’t sense when you lock your doors and
roll up your windows. Two of his most popular creations are Hap
Collins and Leonard Pine, and VANILLA RIDE is the newest
installment in their mythos. As is quickly made known, Hap is white
and heterosexual, Leonard black and homosexual. Each would
unhesitatingly lay down his life for the other. As with almost all
of Lansdale’s work, the prose is violent, dark, graphically
sexual and hilariously funny, to the point that your heart almost
stops while you are laughing. There is one scene in which Hap and
Leonard are the unhappy objects of an unrighteous beatdown by a
giant of a man who is seemingly indestructible. The account of this
episode is screamingly funny and terrifying at the same time.
I’m not quite sure how Lansdale manages to accomplish this,
but he does --- and consistently so.

So how do Hap and Leonard arrive at this state of affairs in
VANILLA RIDE? By doing a friend a favor. Marvin, an ex-Houston cop
and a friend of theirs, asks them to retrieve his granddaughter,
voluntarily or otherwise, from the domicile of a drug dealer with
whom she has taken up residence. Hap and Leonard do so in short
order and, without breaking a sweat, destroy the drug
dealer’s inventory at no additional charge. Their actions
upend a hornet’s nest, given that the drug dealer has ties
with the notorious Dixie Mafia, a group that does not appreciate
that they have caused a crimp in the “supply” end of
their supply and demand quotation. Consequently, Hap and Leonard
find themselves on the wrong end of a pursuit that winds up taking
out part of a residential neighborhood.

The unlikely team soon realizes that the only way to get out of
their predicament is to dig themselves in more deeply --- and they
are given the opportunity to do just that by the FBI. A mid-level
Dixie Mafia officer is ready to turn on the group, and all he wants
is protection for his son, who has stolen a few hundred thousand DM
dollars and run off with his underage, African-American girlfriend.
All Hap and Leonard have to do is find the happy, young and
unjustly rich couple, and bring them and the money back safe and
sound.

The result is page after page of death, mayhem and graphic humor
that you won’t shake out of your head for years. Hap and
Leonard have help, of course, not only from a couple of characters
named Jim Bob and Tonto, but also from Hap’s soulmate Brett,
who provides immoral support from positions both across the miles
and up close and personal. All of what occurs, however, only serves
as a prelude to Vanilla Ride, who supplies the most dangerous and
mysterious threat of all.

VANILLA RIDE contains a passel of unforgettable characters,
three explosive climaxes, and enough colloquialisms and metaphors
to fill a paperback dictionary and improve your church social
vocabulary for years to come. Lansdale continues his trajectory,
which is over the top and off the charts. Anyone who reads this
book will realize they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

Vanilla Ride: A Hap and Leonard Novel
by Joe R. Lansdale

  • Publication Date: July 27, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0307455459
  • ISBN-13: 9780307455451