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Chuck Wendig
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Samuel R. Delany
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Charles L. Grant

Devil Red (Hap and Leonard)

Devil Red (Hap and Leonard) - Joe R. Lansdale Devil Red and its predecessor, Vanilla Ride (apart from having similar-but-different -- and somewhat silly -- titles), are the first Hap & Leonard novels published by Knopf. Knopf also published Lansdale's well-received historical crime novels, and while the artistic level of these last two Hap & Leonard books aren't quite up there with Sunset and Sawdust, they're definitely a step up from what the two main characters were up to when they were under Mysterious Press. To me, Knopf is a more literary publisher, to the point where even their more genre titles and authors have a bit more elevation than what I find from other publishers.
Devil Red begins like most Hap & Leonard novels begin: our two main characters are out doing an odd job out of the kindness of their hearts, and the events turn pretty violent. Said odd job begins a chain of events that pits them against some heavy duty antagonists, and with the help of their usual gang of friends, Hap and Leonard go up against them, despite the odds not being in their favor. This time around, it involves a series of murders surrounding a vampire cult from a couple of years ago.

Cason Statler and Camp Rapture, both from Leather Maiden, make an appearance here, which was sort of odd. There's nothing in any of Lansdale's crime fiction to make you think that they're set in an individual universe, and the lack of anything supernatural means that these could all be "real world" novels, but since there's never been any crossover between his books before, aside from Leather Maiden taking place in the same town as Sunset and Sawdust (albeit a good 70 years in the future), this one caught me by surprise. Towns have been mentioned before, and I'm pretty sure Camp Rapture has already been mentioned in the Hap & Leonard series, but Cason isn't just a mention or a cameo; he has a full-blown part in the investigation and the plot. He doesn't get involved with the nitty gritty of the story (this is, after all, a Hap & Leonard novel), but without him, the story doesn't progress. I'm not sure if that means anything beyond Lansdale just wanting to see how these characters interact, but it does make me wonder if we're seeing the last of Hap and Leonard in full novels.

The themes of these last two novels has been heftier, with Hap seriously thinking about his life and what he's doing with it. He's always been a more introspective character, who's not always comfortable with some of the terrible things he has to do, but Vanilla Ride and Devil Red delve more deeply than the series has in the past. I wonder, again, if this is some sign of the end of the series all together, with Cason possibly moving in to replace them, but that theme has made these novels feel more significant. It also doesn't hurt that these last two novels have been more like a true pair of novels to be read in sequence, and not just standalone books with the same characters. I said with Vanilla Ride that the books could be read pretty much in any order, but Devil Red proves me wrong.

The series overall is worth reading for anyone who likes gritty, witty, realistic crime fiction, but these last two books bring the series to a pinnacle. I could easily see him ending the series here or continuing it, either way, though I won't lie; I hope he's going to continue telling us what kind of trouble Hap and Leonard get up to. Lansdale's always been a good writer, but it's been within the last ten years or so where he's really become a great one.