Book: “The Two Bear Mambo,” by Joe Lansdale

“The Two Bear Mambo” (1995) is the third “Hap and Leonard” book by Joe Lansdale, all of which are now published under the Black Lizard imprint. I previously described them as a poor-man’s Spenser and Hawk. I still think that’s fairly accurate.

The books are told first-person by Hap Collins, a white guy. His compatriot Leonard Pine is a black guy, very tough, but differs from Hawk in one very important way: he’s gay. This makes for some interesting repartee. He’s also quite a cut-up, the funny guy to Hap’s straight (double entendre there) guy. Leonard usually introduces himself as “The Smartest Nigger in the World.” When they get in trouble–which is often–Leonard’s snarkiness probably provoked it.

Hap and Leonard don’t really have jobs. They bounce around East Texas (where Lansdale bases most of his books) having adventures. In “The Two Bear Mambo,” they head to Grovetown, a notorious KKK stronghold, to look for Florida, an ex of Hap who was last known to be there investigating a lynching.

Hap and Leonard have considered themselves somewhat invincible as a twosome. But Grovetown is a bit more than they can chew, though they try. They meet some engaging characters–the police chief, the town boss’s son Tim, a black cook, and others–whose racial views are not readily apparent. Is Sheriff Cantuck a good guy or a bad guy? Hard to tell.

The story focuses more on the lynching than on Florida; they have trouble getting any kind of a bead on what happened to Florida. Their experiences in Grovetown also lead to some soul-searching which added a fascinating dimension.

I read the two previous Hap and Leonard books, “Savage Season” and “Mucho Mojo,” and they just keep getting better. Lansdale is superb at drawing rich characters. The dialogue, especially between Hap and Leonard, is a pure treasure. Lansdale doesn’t try to wrap up all the loose ends, but does tell a great story which keeps your rapt attention. This is a series I’ll definitely keep reading.

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