The Elephant of Surprise (Hap and Leonard)
“Lansdale delivers another exciting East Texas action thriller that will satisfy his many fans, while whetting their appetite for adventures with Hap and Leonard. Well done, Mr. Lansdale.”
No one writes an East Texas mystery thriller like Joe R. Lansdale. His odd couple private investigators, redneck rebel Hap Collins, and gay, black, Republican Vietnam Vet Leonard Pine, are knee deep in trouble again, and running as fast as they can from nasty mob boss with nothing going for them but the elephant of surprise.
Hap and his best friend Leonard are driving home to LaBorde, Texas, in the midst of a storm. “The wipers slaved back and forth like a mean librarian wagging her finger at a loud child . . .”
Hap is hungry and thinking of what he might eat when he gets home. “I might have some cereal. Only one bowl. A small bowl. A bagel, no cream cheese. Light butter, maybe.”
What Hap is not thinking of is swerving to avoid hitting whatever runs across the highway. It’s a girl, an albino and Asian, badly injured. Leonard puts her in the backseat, stuffs Kleenex in her mouth to stop the bleeding, and buckles himself in just as an SUV with a gun-toting passenger who “looked as if he could straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa with one hand,” tears after Hap and Leonard.
“Someone tried to cut her tongue out,” Leonard informs Hap as they are waiting at the hospital after leaving the SUV in a drainage ditch. Two cops who were not the Chief of Police who knew them, or Leonard’s boyfriend, also a cop, question the two PIs.
“Way they were looking at us and talking to us, you would have thought we had tried to cut her tongue out ourselves.”
When Manuela, better known as Manny, meets them at the police station, she is the friendly face they need. Not that she goes easy on them. “But shooting at cars, Leonard, that could cause you some problems.”
Leonard’s reply is a classic Leonard answer: a little testy and smart ass. “Figured getting shot by them might cause me some problems too.”
The girl is in ICU, unconscious with heavy duty pain pills, with no identification. Even when she wakes up she won’t be able to talk. The one thing Manny, Hap, and Leonard do know is that someone wants that girl dead.
Manny assigns a cop to watch the girl’s hospital room, but he is inadequate to the job as the Leaning Tower of Pisa guy from the night before takes him out. Leonard and Hap duck into the girl’s room, then out the window onto a ledge with Leonard carrying the girl. “All she wore was a hospital gown, not the best clothing for the outdoors, since your naked ass hung out of the back of it, but it might beat dying in bed.”
After a fight with another baddie, this one a martial arts expert, the two aging PIs take the girl to the police station. What place could be safer than a jail cell in a locked down police station?
As it turns out, the jail cell is not so safe as one might expect. The mob boss, Wilson Keith, along with an assortment of thugs with automatic weapons, an armored Humvee, and a garbage truck lay siege to the police station after Hap and Leonard turn down his very generous bribe.
Hap and Leonard are not tempted. The injured girl, now identified as Nikki, has just told them that she witnessed Wilson’s son murder her boyfriend, and was a witness for the prosecution. The prosecution failed to protect her.
After an escape from the jail and subsequent car chase that will equal anything Hollywood can imagine, Hap, Leonard, Manny, and Nikki hide out in an abandoned bowling alley. But there is no rest from the wicked as Wilson Keith and his gang of thugs prepare to mount an assault on the bowling alley.
No one writes East Texas humor like Joe E. Lansdale with its down home echoes of Will Rogers, and Mark Twain cynicism. That is a good thing; otherwise, the mounting body count, vivid descriptions of blood and brains, not to mention the loss of various body parts, would remain one too much of American Psycho.
Although Hap and Leonard have helped various bad guys to pass on to their eternal reward when justice has broken down, neither has ever done so for money or revenge. Although the number of men he has killed begins to weigh on Hap, he realized in a rational sense that they all needed killing.
Although Hap’s and Leonard’s hats may be more gray than white, they are still the good guys. They may live in a world where good and evil are sometimes hard to distinguish, but they live by their own moral code. Leonard is comfortable with that, but Hap is ambiguous.
The Elephant of Surprise is nonstop action with no pause for one to draw a breath. While the pace may seem a little too fast for many, it mirrors the storm that forms the backdrop of the novel. The storm is as relentless as the action.
All in all, Lansdale delivers another exciting East Texas action thriller that will satisfy his many fans, while whetting their appetite for adventures with Hap and Leonard. Well done, Mr. Lansdale.