Skip to main content

The Elephant of Surprise: A Hap and Leonard Novel

Review

The Elephant of Surprise: A Hap and Leonard Novel

Joe R. Lansdale continues to roll right along, to the dark delight of those who have enjoyed his work in one or all of the five decades or so in which he has been plying his trade. The fine television adaptation of his Hap and Leonard novels has added to his appreciative audience, but as good as that series is, it does not quite capture the magic of the books. This is demonstrated by THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE, the latest in the Hap and Leonard literary canon and one of the best.

Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are the oddest of couples, a pair of seemingly mismatched friends who are closer than brothers. Lansdale wastes no time getting things started in THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE and never puts his foot on the brake. Things begin with Hap and Leonard driving through a torrential rainstorm that has hit East Texas like a biblical flood. They find a young woman who has been grievously injured in the middle of nowhere and stop to lend assistance, finding that her tongue has been partially severed. No sooner do they ascertain that she is in need of immediate assistance than two goons --- almost as mismatched, in their own way, as our protagonists --- arrive on the scene to finish the job they started.

"Most of the book’s fun is the journey, from the roadside to the police station and ultimately to a long-out-of-business bowling alley where Hap, Leonard and a friend make what is the last stand…for one side, anyway."

Of course, Hap and Leonard don’t see things as ending quite that way and thus begin a cat-and-mouse chase through rural East Texas that pretty much continues throughout the book. The rains, flooding and tornadoes that take place make the situation even more interesting, as do a couple of double-crosses, surprises, and the unearthing of the whys and wherefores as to the motives of the two extremely dangerous individuals who apparently can be slowed but cannot be stopped in their pursuit of the injured woman.

The story comes out haltingly --- communicating with a partially severed tongue is somewhat difficult --- but it develops that Hap and Leonard have put themselves in the path of an extremely dangerous organization with seemingly unlimited resources. However, the boys are at their best when they appear to be outnumbered and outgunned, and there doesn’t seem to be any quit in them, as they say in East Texas. If THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE is their last ride, they’re surely going to go out standing up.

Most of the book’s fun is the journey, from the roadside to the police station and ultimately to a long-out-of-business bowling alley where Hap, Leonard and a friend make what is the last stand…for one side, anyway. Leonard’s first-person narrative is also, as one might expect, full of the similes and metaphors for which we all come early and stay late. That said, there are indications that this may be the last outing for the duo, though at least one unresolved element is still riding off into the sunset at the end of the story.

If this is the last of the series, Lansdale is ending on a proverbial high note. If this is not the final word, then we all can rejoice. Either way, THE ELEPHANT OF SURPRISE comes strongly recommended, and that is no surprise at all.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 22, 2019

The Elephant of Surprise: A Hap and Leonard Novel
by Joe R. Lansdale

  • Publication Date: March 19, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books
  • ISBN-10: 031647987X
  • ISBN-13: 9780316479875