- Title: Devil Red
- Author: Joe R. Lansdale
- Genre: Thriller/Crime
- Year: 2011
Devil Red is the follow-up to 2009′s Vanilla Ride — the novel that marked the return of Hap and Leonard after an eight year gap. If you’ve never read Lansdale, or heard of Hap and Leonard, then Devil Red, book eight in their continuing (mis)adventures, probably isn’t the place to start. Not to say you couldn’t — Lansdale is good about making each of these novels self-contained — but you’d really be better served tracking down some of the earlier books in the series such as Savage Season or Mucho Mojo (my personal favorite). If you are already a fan, well, you know you don’t even need to bother with this review — just go get the book.
Devil Red opens with Hap and Leonard engaging in a characteristic bit of kick ass — beating up some scumbags at the behest of Marvin, who is not your typical PI. But for Hap, this kind of stuff is getting old, and even Leonard’s ‘some people just got it coming to them’ style of black and white morality isn’t assuaging his doubts. Hap is, in short, in a funk — the kind of funk that has him driving out in the middle of the night to bury a long-dead cat he just happened to see in someone’s yard — something that has been building since the duo’s encounter with the cold-blooded assassin Vanilla Ride.
But Hap and Leonard are soon on a humdinger of a case for Marvin, a cold case murder that seems to be linked to killings all over the country by a grim calling card: a red devil’s face, drawn in blood, found at crime scenes far removed from one another, next to completely unrelated victims. But are they dealing with a serial killer, copy-cat murderer, or professional assassin? As they get closer to the truth, Hap and Leonard run afoul of the mysterious Devil Red themselves, and Hap, with the help of an ally, has to come to terms with his malaise and embrace the uglier truths of his existence in order to set things right.
Devil Red is told with Lansdale’s characteristic hard-boiled style and black humor, and zips along like the best in the series. Since Vanilla Ride, the Hap and Leonard stories have taken a slightly less outrageous slant, leaving some room for the characters to mature and grow. While the nature of the ‘aging warrior’ has always been central to the characters, it really seems to be at the forefront of the latest novels and in Devil Red in particular, which contrasts the much more human experiences of Hap with certain other characters, also practitioners of violence, who border on the monstrous or the machine-like. And there is one defining event in the novel that should echo down through the remainder of the series if, as it seems, Lansdale’s newer adherence to consequences, unhealed wounds, and psychological damage is to be a hallmark of the dynamic duo’s second act.
Fast and dirty, Devil Red is Lansdale giving us more of what we want, and doing so in characteristic Lansdale style.