So, I plan on reviewing novels as I read them, but in the last couple of weeks holiday and family obligations kinda sorta got in the way. Here are somewhat abbreviated reviews of my last read of 2019 and my first read of 2020.
BLOOD AND LEMONADE, BY JOE LANSDALE
Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard books began with Savage Season, way back in 1990. There are now by my count 12 novels and many novellas and short stories featuring running buddies Hap and Leonard. Hap Collins is a middle-aged white shit kicker who avoids violence when at all possible. Leonard Pine is his best friend, a black, gay Viet Nam vet with a short fuse, who does not suffer fools. They are not criminals (although they sometimes stomp all over that line), and not law enforcement (although they work as private detectives in later novels), but their misadventures take them on a wild ride through the seedy underbelly of East Texas. The books are violent, profane, scatological, sometimes harrowing, and laugh-out-loud funny as long as you are not easily offended. Also, Lansdale is the best writer of dialogue this side of Elmore Leonard. Get to know Hap and Leonard, and you’ll be hooked.
Blood and Lemonade is a hybrid beast, a group of short stories held together with loose connective tissue. If you’re new to Hap and Leonard, this is not the one to start with. For fans, though, this is a goldmine, because we get to know Hap and Leonard as young men when they first met. I loved it.
THE INSTITUTE, BY STEPHEN KING
I’m going to keep this short and sweet. The Institute kept me up way, way past my bedtime for several nights running. I couldn’t put it down. This is King in full on thriller mode, with a breakneck plot and wonderfully realized characters.
I don’t want to go into much detail, as part of the reading pleasure here is discovering what exactly is going on. There’s a secret government organization, kidnapped children in harm’s way, an evocation of small-town American life that King is better at than just about anyone, and tension that just keeps ratcheting up.
As a long time King fan, I’ve often felt that the weakest part of his game is novel endings (I’m looking at you, Under the Dome), but here he nails it. The Institute is a big, satisfying page-turner.