‘A light, almost transparent mist floated a few inches above a run of water near the trees, and the mist clung between the trees like a fallen cloud.’ – Jackrabbit Smile, by Joe R. Lansdale

April 8, 2018 at 4:15 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

  I’m always happy to encounter lovely descriptive writing, never more so than when I’m immersed in a work of crime fiction. The line quoted above in the title occurs about a third of the way in. It is not the only instance of lyrical prose in the novel.

There’s quite a bit of humor too, mostly consisting of snappy dialog and self-deprecating putdowns, all in the hoary tradition of hard-boiled prose. That aspect of Jackrabbit Smile reminded of me of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels; in addition there’s the banter between Hap and Leonard that’s reminiscent of the rapid fire quips exchanged by Spenser and Hawk. (Similar, but not the same; for this reader, Parker’s Spenser novels are irreplaceable.)

Joe Lansdale’s novel The Bottoms won the 2001 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel; in addition, it was a finalist for several other accolades. (See his entry in Stop!You’reKillingMe.com.) There’s something about crime fiction set in Texas that seems to lend an enveloping at times almost suffocating, atmosphere to the action. One thinks first of last year’s memorable Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke.Then there’s true crime that likewise unfolds in The Lone Star State: The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth and the older but riveting and unforgettable  Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson.

So at this point, are you sensing a “but” hovering over this write-up? The fact is, I have reservations about this book. They can be simply expressed in three words: vulgarity, profanity, and violence. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed as  though all three of these elements became increasingly prominent as the narrative unfolded.

I can accept a certain amount of coarse dialog in mystery fiction. And violence – well, we are talking about crime. But at what point do one, or both, become intolerable? I can’t pinpoint the moment. It’s down to the individual reader, I think.

And so I ended by being somewhat disappointed, albeit in a wistful way, with Jackrabbit Smile. I consider Joe Lansdale to be a fine writer with a sure grip on the conventions of crime writing. He has the ability to push the outer envelope in good ways, too. Hap and Leonard are genuinely appealing characters. (As this novel opens, Hap has just married his business partner Brett.) I can’t say how similar the other Hap and Leonard books are to this one, it being the only one that I’ve read. I may come back to the series in time – but not right away.

The Hap and Leonard series has been adapted for television by the Sundance Channel.

Joe R. Lansdale’s Wikipedia entry lists his occupations as “Writer, author, martial arts instructor.” He appears to be a lifelong Texan, currently residing in Nacogdoches. (The Nacogdoche are a Native American tribe originating in eastern Texas.)

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