Book review: Savage Season by Joe R. Lansdale

When a Hap and Leonard TV series was announced, I picked up the first book to read it first, and Savage Season got lost in the virtual ebook pile on my Kindle (I have a TBR pile so big I may never finish it, but that never stops me from buying new books. I’m an addict for sure.) We had a work-ish trip to Spain come up, and I figured what better way to pass the time than with a crime story?

The Hap and Leonard stories take place in Texas, a place I’m intimately familiar with. Although I live in Italy now, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in Texas towns both big and small, so I know Texas in all its forms. This then, should be a series that I would enjoy, right? Unfortunately, Savage Season never really worked for me.

Before I get into the problems, I’ll describe the basic plot. Hap Collins is a former 60s hippie who refused to go to Viet Nam and went to prison to prove his principles. As a result, his wife left him and he lost everything. His college degree was worthless, and so Hap came out of prison with no work, no house, no truck, no wife, and no pet. If the pet had been a dog, his life would be considered fair game for a classic country song.

Leonard Pine is Hap’s best friend, a gay black man who went to Viet Nam and came home almost as disillusioned as Hap. Leonard has often acted as Hap’s crutch to keep him going through life, and at the start of Savage Season, both are working together as rose farmers. I think. I’m not quite sure on that point.

In any case, the story starts when Hap’s wife Trudy shows up once again to spend the night with him, something Leonard isn’t too happy about. Trudy claims she’s come to make things right by bringing him in on a job that will pay two hundred thousand dollars, tax free. The job involves finding a boat crashed by a group of bank robbers in an area that Hap knows from his youth. Hap decides to bring Leonard along and split his share of the take, and so the caper begins. What follows is a pretty standard story of double crossing and dirty deeds.

But that’s not why the story didn’t work for me. It had the potential to work, but a large part of the dialogue is hampered by Hap and Leonard, both of whom seem to think they’re stand up comedians showing up to an audition for amateur’s night. They’re not funny, and even the other characters in the book keep telling them this. But the attempts to wring humor from every moment never stop, and the only thing worse than bad comedy is a bad comedy act that doesn’t know it has overstayed its welcome.

The book’s villain arrives late to the party, and his dialogue is almost as painful as Hap and Leonard’s. He keeps pausing everything he says to do word checks with his minion, and he comes off as a moron, not as a major crime boss.

I have to give Savage Season two stars. The setting is authentic, certainly, but the cast of characters rubbed me the wrong way almost from the start, and I’m not sure I’ll try any of the later books in the series. I like a bit of gallows humor in fiction, but only if the jokes are funny. Not one joke in this story got a laugh out of me, while most resulted in resigned sighs. That’s not the sort of sound I want to make while reading a crime thriller.