JACKRABBIT SMILE : A HAP AND LEONARD NOVEL by Joe R. Lansdale (Mulholland Books, 2018).

This latest novel in the HAP AND LEONARD series opens with the marriage of Hap and Brett, owner of Sawyer Investigations and boss to Hap and Leonard, the former a self-described white trash rebel and the latter a gay Black Republican and Vietnam War vet. The wedding reception is interrupted by a monster truck carrying Judith Mulhaney and her son Thomas Mulhaney. Judith asks the pair to find her daughter Jackie “Jackrabbit” Mulhaney, who has gone missing.

So begins the latest installment in this series, which is best described as contemporary East Texas PI noir. Although the Mulhaneys are openly racist Christian fundamentalists, the men do due diligence in their search for Jackie, directed and aided by Brett.

The pair become involved with all the people Jackie left behind, most notably The Professor, a polite white nationalist businessman who wants to exclude and eventually eliminate Black people from an entire town. He has lackeys, including an older, redneck junkyard owner who seduced Jackie when she was barely at age of consent, as well as bizarre-acting identical twins with a fearsome reputation for depraved violence. Then there’s the police chief’s brothers, and Ace, a gentle Black giant deeply in love with Jackie, who bore his child.

The action builds and blood is shed, yet the heroes of this tale persevere until the truth is uncovered. The solution to this mystery surprised me, and I’m not easily surprised by mysteries, if they play fair and give readers all the clues they need for said solution.

Joe Lansdale plays fair in JACKRABBIT SMILE, and I like it when a mystery can surprise me.

And the characters ! I’ve read every book in the HAP AND LEONARD series, and the main characters are like old friends to me, as is Brett and, to a lesser extent, their friends and allies old and new. Most intriguing is Hap’s beautiful daughter Chance, with whom he was recently reunited.

JACKRABBIT SMILE has a kick-ass story, but it’s not just a kick-ass story. Lansdale often takes on important issues in his work, nowhere moreso than in the novels of this series. The central themes are race relations and income inequality in America, past and present, particularly in the American South. Lansdale never lectures – these issues are presented to readers strictly through the experiences of – and interactions between – the characters.

Frequently, the issues are presented with humor, so much so that the entire series is just as much comedy as anything else. As narrator, Hap’s distinctive voice is much given to whimsy, even flights of fancy, and he displays a keen knack for a clever turn of phrase, which makes the narration a joy to read.

For all of these reasons, I wholeheartedly recommend JACKRABBIT SMILE and the entire HAP AND LEONARD series. The adventures of this unique detective duo have provided me with hours of real enjoyment – and they can do the same for you.

Naturally, I’d give JACKRABBIT SMILE 5 / 5 stars.

On the other hand, since these characters grow and change significantly over time, I recommend reading the novels in series order. The HAP AND LEONARD Sundance TV series from last year is based on the first novel, SAVAGE SEASON (1990). If you’ve seen the TV series and you’re the impatient type, I guess you could start the novels with the second title, MUCHO MOJO (1994).

Thanks to the Seattle Public Library, for providing me with the circulating print edition of JACKRABBIT SMILE used in this review.

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A. J. Jones :I write reviews of movies and books, particularly graphic novels, as well as essays and memoir pieces, some of which are at https://www.facebook.com/myucb/ . I also write poems, and you can find some of them at https://www.facebook.com/rhymequest/ .