I do not know why, but until fairly recently, I had never read any Joe R. Lansdale. We’re both Texans. He writes in genres and forms I love to read (comic books, action, science fiction, horror). I love cheezy kung-fu flicks and he loves martial arts. His novella “Bubba Ho-Tep” was made into a fairly successful movie that I enjoyed immensely. His stories are weird, pulpy, and never fail to entertain–I’d say they’re the literary equivalent of the drive-in movie (of which I have fond memories). Yet, somehow, the masterful mojo writer from East Texas has eluded me. That has now been rectified.
My current love of all things Lansdale began with the “Hap and Leonard” series of adventures. I picked up the first one (Savage Season) on audio at my local public library. I was hooked from the beginning and have checked nearly all of them out since, listening to them in my car while driving to and from work. Hap and Leonard are a couple of down-on-their-luck, middle-aged guys from East Texas. Both men drift from one crap job to another, scraping by, and always seem to find some violent form of trouble. Hap Collins, the narrator, is an easy-going, idealistic fellow who did some time for refusing the draft during Vietnam and has never quite gotten on his feet since. Leonard Pine is Hap’s best friend, a brother, really, who was in the Army during the war. Leonard is black and gay, two big strikes against him in East Texas, and has a bit of an attitude (well, more than a bit…) but is definitely the kind of guy you want on your side in a fight. These stories are two-fisted fun; they remind me of Elmore Leonard tales with a decidedly Texan feel. Just great, great stuff.
Next, I got a hold of the recent “best-of” collection of Lansdale’s short stories. Over his career the man has produced hundreds of stories, some obviously better than others but all distinctive in style and wit. The Best of Joe R. Lansdale is a brilliant collection for both the novice and for the connoisseur. My favorites from this collection are “Mad Dog Summer”, “The Big Blow”, “The Events Concerning a Nude Fold-Out Found in a Harlequin Romance” and “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks” (all of which won the Bram Stoker Award at one point or another). Also included is the more famous and equally great novella “Bubba Ho-Tep”, which is every bit as fun as the movie. There are also some brilliant pieces about drive-in cinema and a story featuring a twelve-stepping Godzilla. This collection truly covers all the bases.
After that smorgasbord of tasty mojo storytelling, I was ready for more. At my friendly neighborhood used book store, I snatched up this relatively rare find: A Fist Full of Stories (and Articles). Described by Lansdale (his ownself) as kind of a garage-sale collection (each piece of varying quality but may be nonetheless of interest), this collection is highlighted by a truly a disturbing play (“Drive-In Date”) and a series of the most lewd-yet-hilarious movie reviews you have ever set eyes on. He and David Webb wrote these “Trash Theater” pieces for Cemetary Dance magazine. They are certainly not for the easily offended but definitely worth a read (especially their take on the movie version of The Bible). This collection is also interesting because a few of the pieces (especially the “Lansdale Raves” columns and the story “Master of Misery”) are echoed in parts of his later work (particularly the Hap and Leonard books).
Another trip to book store yielded Dead in the West: A Zombie Western. How could I not buy it with a title like that? This short weird Western adventure hooks from page one and is chock full of pulpy goodness. A gun-fighting preacher arrives to save the East Texas town of Mud Creek from the machinations of an Indian medicine man who returns from the grave with an army of zombies to wreak his revenge against the town that murdered him and his bride. The pace is fast, the plot is dark, and the novel just hums with fun. It would make a great drive-in movie…in fact, Lansdale has apparently written a screenplay for it.
Next up will be the numbered edition I found of another collection entitled For a Few Stories More. According to Wikipedia, he released this limited edition collection to prove “that not everything he wrote was as great as what’s widely available”. Even sub-par Lansdale can’t fail to be interesting. I can hardly wait!