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Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard – The Early Years


Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard – The Early Years

I have been reading Joe R. Lansdale practically from the jump --- ever since his debut novel, ACT OF LOVE, released in 1981 --- and am still trying to catch up. Lansdale cuts a wide swath across and through multiple genres and media to the extent that one wonders if perhaps there is a building somewhere in east Texas where a multitude of unknown, though extremely talented, writers labor 24/7/365 to feed the collective maw of readers whom he has acquired over the course of four decades.

Lansdale might be best known, at least in some circles, as the creator of the iconic duo of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. He has been sharpening and defining this pair of odd-couple friends over the course of several novels (some of which have been adapted for a television series) and short stories since 1990. The newly published OF MICE AND MINESTRONE is a must-have collection of (mostly) original short fiction that partially pulls back the veil on their early encounters, a kind of “child is father to the man” retrospective that features some of Lansdale’s best writing.

"...a must-have collection of (mostly) original short fiction that partially pulls back the veil on [Hap and Leonard's] early encounters, a kind of 'child is father to the man' retrospective that features some of Lansdale’s best writing."

The book consists of five stories, only one of which, “The Watering Shed,” has already seen the light of day. One might assume that Hap and Leonard’s past was informed exclusively by violent acts. As is demonstrated by two stories here, one might be wrong. “The Kitchen” revolves around a family visit to Hap’s grandmother’s house. It is noteworthy that nothing noteworthy occurs. There are no knife fights, no voices raised in anger, no physical altercations. It’s a beautifully simple description of a gathering among loved ones, told through the filter of Hap’s keen eye and memory. Fans will not want to skip it; they may even wish to save it for last, just to savor it.

Similarly, there is nothing specific in “The Sabine Was High” to make the heart race. It is a tale of Hap and Leonard as young men, meeting after a two-year absence of circumstance. They go fishing, not as a means of reacquaintance since such is not needed, but because it is what they do. Revelations abound for the reader, and the story contains one of Lansdale’s most interesting and subtle endings.
That is not to say that OF MICE AND MINESTRONE is all quiet and full of platitudes. The aforementioned “The Watering Shed” is classic Lansdale by any name and features a younger Leonard poking the tiger in a rural bucket of blood joint with a somewhat reluctant Hap backing his play. That things spin out of control can easily be predicted; the manner in which they do cannot.

“Sparring Partner” finds Leonard drawing Hap into what is supposed to be an easy-money scheme that morphs into an unusual rescue mission of sorts, one in which Leonard’s talent and penchant for fisticuffs is put on full display at a relatively early age.

A similar theme in a dissimilar setting is explored in the title story. A teenage Hap, ironically employed at the local police station, attempts to effectuate the rescue of an abused wife. The reader knows that it will end badly, but the plot spins in unexpected directions with surprising results. It is a brain worm of a story, for sure.

I am not kidding when I tell people that I would happily read Lansdale’s grocery shopping list if given the opportunity. I sort of get that chance in OF MICE AND MINESTRONE. As a bit of lagniappe, the collection includes “Good Eats,” a section devoted to recipes (provided by his daughter, Kasey Lansdale) for the mouthwatering vittles that Hap and Leonard chow down on with regularity when they are not otherwise compelled by circumstance to kick ass and take names.

It’s a great way to close out a volume full of rough but sparkling dialogue and memorable vignettes, which are exactly what brings Lansdale’s readers back, time after time.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 12, 2020

Of Mice and Minestrone: Hap and Leonard – The Early Years
by Joe R. Lansdale