Thanks to the brilliant Amazon Prime series the Hap and Leonard stories have reached a much larger audience, and while this hapless pair has been a firm favourite within the genre for many a year, we always knew them as a firmly cemented pair of friends. Friends who would take a bullet, beating or a bashing for each other, but where did this unbreakable friendship come from? Blood and Lemonade is, in Joe R. Lansdale's words a "mosaic" novel, a set of connected stories, which don't follow a linear timeline, more akin to listening to two friends reminisce about past times than an actual traditionally plotted narrative. It's a clever move from Lansdale but is it a move that works?
Prequels can be a tainted gift, look back over all the films and books that have been given the prequel treatment, there aren't many that have worked, most have felt like a poor cash in, and some have even sullied the memories of the original product. Do we need to know that much about a character that we have to right to the very beginning? In most cases no, we don't. When Hap and Leonard first exploded on the scene with their debut adventure Savage Season, they arrived as fully formed characters, and by the end of the story the reader was already invested in them. Hap Collins' white working class laborer who spent time in federal prison as a young man for refusing to be drafted into the military and serve in the Vietnam War and Leonard Pine's gay, black Vietnam vet with serious anger issues, were a pairing made in heaven. We the readers were hooked, we wanted more, and over the years Lansdale has delivered a series of adventures that places these stories among one of the best series of books out there.
And as each book revealed more and more about the duo, we became more and more invested in them, to many of us, they became almost like a family member. Blood and Lemonade plays on this attachment that we feel to these characters and delivers a satisfying insight into their formative years.
At times this is a hard book to read, due to its cultural setting, Lansdale has captured the sociopolitical zeitgeist of the era perfectly. A period where racism was rampant and times were excruciating for Black people and those who didn't fit in with the general feeling towards them. Be warned the use of the N-word is utilised many times in this book, but it is never used for shock value, it drives the story to such an extent it almost feels as though your soul is taking a beating as you read it. Blood and Lemonade is an emotionally compelling tale which puts the reader through an emotional whirlwind in a way that only a great writer such as Lansdale can do.
From the moving "Parable of the Stick" which takes a look bullying in school and to the shocking story of how an outcast at school can be forced to take things too far, to the deeply moving story of when Hap and his mother help a lost black kid. These stories are written with a keen eye and an empathic heart, that can only come from a writer who grew up in the Texas of these stories.
But don't worry Blood and Lemonade takes the lead from the book's title and balances the blood with lots of lemonade, for every dark story there is one that shows that there were light and friendship and lots of good people around. You will smile and chuckle in between the moments of unrelenting darkness.
Blood and Lemonade is a great collection of stories, and unlike so many other prequels out here actually adds to the mythology of the stories that came before it. The Hap and Leonard we knew before reading this are given an extra depth and sense of humanity with this book, Blood and Lemonade is a honorable entry in the mythology of the most righteous pair of heroes the genre has ever seen.
As a liberal young man in East Texas, Hap Collins is discovering his passion for two-fisted justice in a redneck world. Leonard Pine―black, gay, and the ultimate outsider―is already fighting his own battles against racists and bullies. So when Hap sees Leonard demolishing an angry mob with his fists (and taunts), it’s immediately clear that these two young men have a lot in common.
Discover Hap and Leonard's coming-of-age alongside their continuing legend, SundanceTV's “Hap and Leonard: Mucho Mojo”: an action-packed, six-episode murder mystery adventure starring Michael K. Williams (The Wire) and James Purefoy (The Following).