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by Joe R. Lansdale
Vintage/Black Lizard, January 2009
308 pages
ISBN: 0307455394

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Joe Lansdale is a great storyteller, and his folksy Texas vernacular is a perfect vehicle for his tall tales. He's also a bare-fisted defender of those who suffer from poverty and discrimination, taking on injustice in the Texas populist tradition of Lloyd Bentsen, Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, and Kinky Friedman.

MUCHO MOJO, the second in the series, first published in 1994, starts in a steaming East Texas field where Hap Collins is planting roses. This is no gentlemanly pursuit. "It was July and it was hot and I was putting out sticks and not thinking one whit about murder. All the other rose-field jobs are bad, the budding, the digging, but putting out sticks, that's the job they give sinners in Hell." He's rescued when his friend, Leonard Pine rescues him to go to a funeral.

Come to find out, Uncle Chester left a nice sum of money and his house to Leonard - not to mention a hidden box full of a child's bones nestled in some hardcore child pornography. Though Uncle Chester had turned against his nephew when he came out as gay, Leonard has a hard time believing he was a murderous pedophile. Before long, he and Hap are checking into a string of missing kids from the black section of town, none of them investigated with any seriousness by the authorities.

The story is a potent mix of action and meditation on the nature of good, evil, race, sexuality and class, peppered with bawdy humor. While the narrative voice is folksy and unpretentious, there are descriptions that conjure up a very real time and place. This example, chosen at random, offers a taste of Lansdale's style. "Trees were growing close to the house, and it appeared as if they were holding it up. An oak had erupted through rotten porch boards and was crawling up the front of the place, poking limb through a glassless window frame, like a bully poking a big finger in a sissy's eye. The house's lumber had gone gray as cigarette ash. At one side, a persistent hickory had grown to the height of the house and was still growing, and in the process one humongous limb was lifting a corner of the roof as if tipping a hat." It's an oral style, one that you can almost hear out loud.

Some years ago Linton Weeks of the Washington Post complained that the most successful genre writers were masters of the "no-style style," widely read and yet indistinguishable. Their words and phrases are deliberately without character (which generally goes for the cast as well) so the pages can be turned faster. Suspense is all, and plot is the stripped-down delivery mechanism. Lansdale's books don't lack plot or urgency, but the characters pause to think about what it all means. Just as well, because that offers the lucky reader a chance to linger on choice phrases and smart, irreverent dialogue before rushing off the next scene.

Fans and you-ought-to-be-fans of the Hap and Leonard series will be pleased that Vintage is reprinting the first three in the series. And hold on to your Stetson: Knopf is publishing a new Hap and Leonard this summer.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, February 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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