July 9th, 2009

there!, Hello

When Good Characters Go On Too Long . . .

42) Vanilla Ride by Joe R. Lansdale (Knopf, 2009, 243 pages)
I have been looking forward to this book -- the seventh in the East Texas Mayhem series (my name, other folks call it the Hap and Leonard series, after its protags Hap Collins and Leonard Pine) -- for some time, since like most series readers, I enjoy catching up with old friends.

That Lansdale combination of thrills and raunchy dialogue are here, as are the insights into this quirky, often funny thing called life. There's a plot involving an organization of crooks called the Dixie Mafia, some dumb assed small timers, some nasty bigger timers, some crooked cops, and a few familiar faces from Lansdale's other crime/suspense works.

What's not present is either notable character development or actual suspense. Now those are two big strikes for me. This is the first Joe R. Lansdale novel I have stopped reading halfway through and debated returning to the store. I persevered, for better or worse.

Last year's Leather Maiden I enjoyed, though the plotting felt a little too similar to other Lansdale works. The characters were a treat, and the book went some seriously dark places. Lost Echoes, as well, had a strong air of the familiar to it, but there were enough characters coping with an intriguing supernatural angle that I enjoyed finding out more. Always, Lansdale's narrators offer some gems about the human condition.

The novel starts with Hap and Leonard being asked to do a favor for a friend. His granddaughter has fallen in with a bad crowd, and her current beau is beating on her. Would Hap and Leonard go bring her home? They agree, and an asswhippin' decides plenty. From there, we get the inevitable retribution, first from the thugs themselves, then from their gangster type bosses. Finally, the baddies call for some outside help, in the form of a particularly mean-spirited assassin. Along the way, Hap and Leonard get mixed up with the FBI and go fishing. The ending of the book is a gentle lead in to the eighth volume in the series, due out next year. Maybe that book will hold a better payoff than this one. Big maybe, that.

As I read, I kept hoping Vanilla Ride would catch a little of the magic that so enchanted me with Savage Season, Mucho Mojo, and Two Bear Mambo. Alas, nope. Perhaps I was expecting too much? Maybe so, but oh well. I laughed a bit and I turned the pages, yet I was not fully entertained.