A young black man is found beaten to death in the projects of an East Texas town: apparently a drug deal gone bad. His mother doesn’t believe this official account, so she hires a private investigator to find out more.
This isn’t part of a recent news story. It’s the premise of the 10th Hap and Leonard novel just out this week, called Rusty Puppy. Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are the private investigators, an unlikely duo who happily take on more than they can chew… cracking jokes, screwing up and making a whole lot of people mad in the process.
The book series is the brainchild of Nacogdoches writer Joe Lansdale, whose East Texas roots serve as the inspiration for much of what goes into his books.
“Behind the pine curtain is a very, very different thing,” Lansdale says.
One of the most remarkable things about Lansdale’s writing is the back-and forth banter between the nuanced characters, especially considering that the series’ protagonists aren’t the typical east Texas dynamic-duo. Hap is a self-described “white-trash rebel” and Leonard is black, gay, Republican Vietnam vet.
“When I first started doing this series the idea that there was this gay, black man and even hap being a liberal in east Texas, a lot of people were a little confused about this series but they just kept sticking with it,” Lansdale says. “I’m proud to say I get notes and things that said ‘look, I never really thought about gay people before…Until I read your books and the more I read those books the more I realized people are people.”
Growing up in in Texas during the 50s and 60s, Lansdale says he witnessed racism and homophobia first-hand. Though he says the situation has improved since the first Hap and Leonard novel came out in 1990, Lansdale says traces of this history still linger.
As time goes on and the sociopolitical climate changes, Lansdale tries to keep his writing relevant.
“I get older and they stay 50 and you know I saw 50 in the rearview mirror quite a while ago,” Lansdale says. “Times have changed and I’ve tried to follow that in the books and have them just as able to change with it or not be able to change with it the same way we all are.“
This ability to weave stories with engrossing twists in turns, Lansdale says, is the secret behind keeping readers – and himself – at the edge of his seat. He says he doesn’t plot out stories, opting instead to let the characters and situations unfold as he writes.
“I only write about 3 hours a day because if I do that I feel like I’m spontaneous and I feel like I’m having a good time, I’m as surprised as the reader,” says Lansdale. “I don’t write for other people, I write for me. Then when I get done, of course I hope other people like it, but I think that the odds are better if I write for myself.”
Written by Morgan O’Hanlon