If you’re an aspiring writer and want to study the craft of writing—pacing, plot, characterization, ratcheting up the tension, breaking it with levity—Lansdale is a master of the art and is well worth studying and learning from. If you enjoy reading entertaining stories well-told, Lansdale is your man.
Lansdale has carved out a nice career as a full-time writer. He’s written episodes for Batman: The Animated Series, stories for comic books (including Jonah Hex, Conan, and The Fantastic Four), and the novella Bubba Ho-Tep, which was adapted for the screen starring The Man, Bruce Campbell. Early in his career Lansdale was pigeonholed as a “splatterpunk” horror author, which is absolutely unfair. He apparently did write some gruesome novels early in his career, and violence punctuates everything I’ve read of his, but while graphic and real it’s not overdone. He’s a man of wide interests and moods (gigantic melancholies and a gigantic mirth, to steal a line from Robert E. Howard) and can’t be boxed off in any one genre. Here’s a link to an interview in which he states that his preferred genre is “the Lansdale genre.” That’s probably the best description of his unique style.
But despite a lengthy career and a laundry list of publishing credits, I get the feeling Lansdale isn’t that well-known. Most of the people I talk to (those that are regular readers, anyway) have never heard of the guy. An Amazon.com editorial review I came across says that Lansdale is something of a “cult writer.” If so, consider myself a junior acolyte of the Lansdale sect. I read my first Lansdale book a good 10 years ago and have only read a handful of his novels since (Savage Season, Freezer Burn, The Drive-In: A Double Feature Omnibus, and The Bottoms), plus some of his short stories. But except for The Drive-In, I’ve found them all to be very, very good.
Mucho Mojo is probably my favorite Lansdale story. It’s the second of his Hap and Leonard novels, which feature two recurring characters in rural East Texas. Hap and Leonard are two of the unlikeliest friends you’ll encounter—Hap is a white, perennially destitute, borderline honkey-tonk democrat, while Leonard is a black, gay, no-nonsense republican. Both are wisecracking, hard-fighting, no-nonsense dudes who get mixed up in a lot of tough business, including breaking up drug rings and solving murder mysteries. They always manage to extricate themselves using a mixture of martial arts, wits, and dogged determination.
There’s so much to recommend about Lansdale, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how darned funny the guy is. Humor is very, very difficult to pull off in the written form, but I smiled on nearly every page of Mucho Mojo. A couple times I laughed out loud.
Here’s a sample passage from chapter two of Mucho Mojo in which Hap and Leonard are attending the funeral of Leonard’s uncle Chester while wearing a pair of bad suits just bought from J.C. Penney:
Time we got to the Baptist church where the funeral was being held, we had sweated up good in our new suits, and the hot wind blowing on me made my hair look as if it had been combed with a bush hog. My overall appearance was of someone who been in a fight and lost.
I got out of the car and Leonard came around and said, “You still got the fucking tag hanging on you.”
I lifted an arm and there was the tag, dangling from the suit sleeve. I felt like Minnie Pearl. Leonard got out his pocket knife and cut it off and we went inside the church.
We paraded by the open coffin, and of course, Uncle Chester hadn’t missed his chance to be guest of honor. He was one ugly sonofabitch, and I figured alive he hadn’t looked much better. He wasn’t very tall, but he was wide, and being dead a few days before they found him hadn’t helped his looks any. The mortician had only succeeded in making him look a bit like a swollen Cabbage Patch Doll.
The basic plot of Mucho Mojo is as follows: After Chester passes away Leonard inherits his home and a bunch of money. He also receives a handful of mysterious items in a safe-deposit box. Among other items, it contains a key to a lock box containing the remains of a child, which is hidden beneath the floorboards of the house. The mystery begins. While Lansdale reveals the killer well before the end of the novel, and telegraphs the bad guys just a bit, I wasn’t bothered. It’s the journey that makes Mucho Mojo worth reading, including the writing, the characters, the setting, and the humor. Along the way Lansdale has a lot to say about racism, bigotry, crime, and poverty.
As I mentioned above, there’s a lot to recommend in Mucho Mojo, but perhaps most of all the characterization and dialogue. Hap and Leonard are well-drawn, and while I don’t know much about Texas or its residents they certainly feel like living, breathing residents of the Lone Star state. They’re pals, and convincingly so. When I closed Mucho Mojo I felt like I was saying goodbye to a pair of old friends with whom I’d just shared great conversation over a few beers. Their dialogue reminds me of that which you’d encounter watching a Quentin Tarantino film (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, etc.) but a bit more grounded and rough around the edges.
I’m looking forward to finally reading the rest of the Leonard and Hap novels, of which the latest, Vanilla Ride, was just published earlier this year.