BLOOD AND LEMONADE, the latest collection of stories about Hap Collins and Leonard Pine – Lansdale’s odd but irresistible duo of East Texas crime-fighters – is a companion to both the Sundance TV series (which recently began its second season with an adaptation of MUCHO MOJO) and the previous story collection, HAP AND LEONARD, published last year. But two noticeable differences distinguish this latest collection.
For one, the stories trace the earliest days of the partnership; all the way back to when Hap first met Leonard in high school. Also, as Lansdale notes in his Afterword, this is more of a “mosaic novel” than the earlier collection. That is, the stories convey the life and theme of its characters with new passages (or this this case entire stories) added for necessary transitions – much like what Ray Bradbury did with THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES.
Like all the novels and stories of the series, Hap’s first-person narration carries us through all the events. So we witness the first meeting of Hap, a surprisingly open-minded young East Texas native, and Leonard, a young black man who is also gay, in “Tire Fire,” the second story (or chapter, if you will) following a recollection of how Hap learned to defend himself against one of the many school bullies in “Parable of The Stick.”
The relationship of these two young outsiders grows with each passing year, to where they eventually think of each other more as brothers than mere friends. There are many challenges to their early friendship, as exemplified in “Not Our Kind,” a story that appeared in the earlier HAP AND LEONARD collection but is well worth reading again in the context of these other formative stories.
Several stories take the form of a recollection, spurred by a memory that comes up in conversation or by the duo’s drive through Marvel Creek, the town where Hap grew up. So Hap recalls his poor upbringing and the lessons he picked up along the way, either by experience or taught by his stern but quietly compassionate father. Then there are the various other children Hap encounters at school, including the unsettling account of “The Boy Who Became Invisible,” with its unfortunate resonance to contemporary times.
Leonard doesn’t appear in all the stories gathered here, but his presence is felt throughout. This is strengthened by the underlying theme of racism that permeates several of the stories. The setting is the rural south in the early 1960s, before the hard-fought victories of equality, when blacks were tolerated most diplomatically as “coloreds,” and racism was as common a household trait as church on Sunday. Leonard shoulders the additional burden of homosexuality – a trait not often discussed in those days and quickly dismissed as being “a queer.”
Long-time fans of the series will no doubt miss the smart-aleck dialogue exchanges that highlight Hap and Leonard’s conversations, and those with whom they encounter in their daily lives. With the exception of the opening of a few stories, this characteristic must wait until the duo become full-grown men in the series novels for its true blossoming.
A handful of the stories make their first appearance here, while the others are culled from earlier collections edited by Lansdale and others.
We’ve been seeing a lot of Hap and Leonard lately. Along with the aforementioned HAP AND LEONARD story collection, last month saw the publication of RUSTY PUPPY, the 10th novel in the series.
“I love these guys,” Lansdale admits in his afterword. “They have been with me a long time.” The legion of Lansdale fans will find themselves immediately nodding in agreement as they recall their favorite scenes from the novels. Those new to the duo and their various and often violent adventures will find this side-road down their formative years well worth while.
“The Early Days” might have been the fitting subtitle to this latest addition to the Hap and Leonard cannon. But Lansdale wisely chose instead “Blood And Lemonade,” the title of one of the stories as well as an oddly appropriate description of the memories that it contains. —Alan Cranis