Honky Tonk Samurai

April 19, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads)

samuraiHonky Tonk Samurai by Joe R. Lansdale

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Hap and Leonard. It’s nice to see them return in style. I caught up with their adventures last year, and like the maturity (so to speak) that Lansdale brought to Vanilla Ride and Devil Red. The two novellas that followed were less interesting, but Honky Tonk Samurai brings them back to A-list status.

This time around, our two main characters help save a dog being abused by its owner, and that act gets them involved with a crime ring and a group of notorious assassins. Like any Hap & Leonard novel, the summary is less interesting than the story itself, as the real joy of the book is in the characterization and dialogue. I noticed with this book that these novels are typically a lot of build-up and investigation, leading to a showdown that happens quickly, but that build-up and investigation is pretty damned interesting.

Lansdale has started bringing in characters from previous books, or even from outside the series, and it bugs me a little bit. I understand the desire to link all your books together into a single universe (thanks a lot, Stephen King), but it doesn’t work as well with these novels. Hap and Leonard should be the stars here, but in Honky Tonk Samurai, they’re relying a lot on other character to do some of their dirty work. It seemed out of place, and I felt like Lansdale was letting his characters down by not having them solve their problems on their own.

The series has a reputation for being populated with odd characters (Rumble Tumble contained “An East Texas bouncer, a black queer, an ex-sweet potato queen, a six-foot-four overweight retired hit man and former reverend, and a redheaded midget with an attitude”, for example), but the last few novels and stories have been a little more serious. That’s fine, but in Honky Tonk Samurai, Lansdale brings in a trans woman. The fact that she’s trans isn’t a necessary part of the story, and is of little substance beyond other characters saying something about it. I feel like Lansdale used her to try to include another “odd character” in the story, which is disappointing. She doesn’t strike me as a stereotype, but she does strike me as a token character, with Lansdale trying to say, “Hey, look how progressive I am by including a trans character!” It just doesn’t work.

As I neared the end of the book, I had planned on giving it three stars, since it was readable and engaging, even if it wasn’t anything special, but then Lansdale had to bring in an ending that took me by surprise, and I had to bump it up to four stars. Even with my reservations about the characters, I couldn’t deny that it had been effective.

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