Lansdale, Joe R. Captains Outrageous. New York: Mysterious Press, 2003. 336 pp.
Can you say "Gonzo?" Lansdale has long been one of my favourite authors. I first got to know him through his horror stuff, particularly The Drive-In and The Drive-In 2. Those were way over the top. Over the years, I've read other novels and mostly short fiction in the genre. However, the last number of years he seems to be concentrating on crime/mystery at novel length. As well as a bunch of stand-alones (for which he should be praised) he does have a series of novels featuring Texas good-old-boy Hap Collins and his buddy, a gay black man by the name of Leonard Pine. Let's just say Hap might be a little more liberal than your typical redneck. Anyways, the series is definately gonzo crime fiction at it's best with the snarky duo having a series of bizarre misadventures over the last 4 or 5 novels.
Then comes Captains Outrageous. A spicy concoction of a daring rescue, an ill-fated cruise ship experience, stranded in Mexico, caught between a beautiful woman of doubtful morals and a gangster and finally an extended revenge set piece. Does it all hold together? Not really. On a few levels I was a bit disappointed with this one. First of all, the plot was a bit more random and scattered that usual, never quite deciding what kind of story this is. Lansdale always teeters between farce and tragedy, but the two co-existed here very shakily. Part of that is tone. Hap and Leonard have always been smug, edgy and flippant, with a hard bitterness and sarcasm propelling their relationship, but this was the first of the novels where they really don't seem that likeable. And to be frank, this kind of revenge tale really depends on the characters doing the venging being a bit more sympathetic. To echo my remarks a few years ago on The Sparrow, the character and their friendships -- Hap, Leonard, Hap's new/old girlfriend Brett, their posse bent on revenve -- seem just a bit too pat, too perfect in their own conception of their own righteousness.
I'm still a Lansdale fan, no doubt about it. I will read more of his novels and stories. It's just this one. Perhaps it's no coincidence that he hasn't written a new Hap & Leonard novel since this one. Maybe it's time to give them a rest, give them a bit of time to get over themselves.