Rusty Puppy by Joe Lansdale. The twelfth book in the thriller/mystery/action series Hap & Leonard, this one picks up immediately where the previous one left off – which is good, since that previous one ended on a hell of a cliffhanger, with Hap seemingly in the middle of dying. Well, he's all better now and while I didn't particularly expect the series to kill off its narrator and co-protagonist, I really could have used some more resolution to that particular plot development.
Ah, well. I don't read these books for their subtle plotting, I read them because the banter between Hap and Leonard never fails to make me laugh. For example:
"You do look cool in that fedora.” [Hap said to Leonard]
“Like I value your opinion.”
“But you do.”
“So you like it?” he said.
“Stylish, brother. You found something that works for you. I know how hard that must be for you.”
“You’re still searching, though,” Leonard said. “Your daughter doing okay?”
“That’s working out?”
“Except she and Brett [Hap's girlfriend] have the colds from hell. I think it might be flu. Brett actually asked that I stay at the office tonight. They are seriously infectious. And I don’t want that shit they got.”
“But you don’t mind sharing their germs with me?”
“I don’t have a single symptom,” I said. “And I’m keeping it that way. I’m actually kind of enjoying being on my own at the office. Well, there’s Buffy [the dog]. It’s nice for a change of pace. Me and Buffy can play checkers until late at night. She hasn’t quite got chess down yet.”
“You can stay at my place, asshole.”
“I’m fine at the office. John and you might get back together, and I’d rather not hear you fucking behind the wall. I can’t enjoy that. I keep thinking something is in the wrong hole.”
“Long as I’ve known you, you are still bothered by it?”
“Not the gay, just the act. I don’t want to hear it going on.”
“That’s the same.”
“How do you feel about heterosexuality?”
“Nothing against it, but it makes me kind of go eeew.”
“Now you get it.”
“I’m going to tell Brett you referred to her equipment as a hole.”
“I was just speaking in a general way.”
“Please don’t,” I said.
“I’ll consider on it,” he said.
In this book, they investigate the murder of Jamar, a young man supposedly beaten to death in a drug deal gone wrong, but whose mother swears that something more is going on. The plot expands to include a conspiracy of crooked cops, the sexual harassment of Jamar's sister, an illegal boxing ring, an abandoned sawmill, a bunch of incompetent hitmen, Leonard's new boyfriend, a sleazy lawyer, and a deliciously creepy explanation for the phrase 'rusty puppy'. There's a slender feel to all of it, like much of it is only there to provide a setup for the fanservice-y climax wherein Hap and Leonard are forced to publically fight each other to the death. But since I quite enjoy a bit of well-done fanservice, that's not really a criticism.
Speaking of, I also loved the new character of an eight-year-old girl who becomes involved in the mystery (warning for various language issues):
The little girl came over. “You think you’re bad, don’t you?” She said this to Leonard.
“Baby girl, I don’t think, I know I’m bad.”
“Them boys hold grudges,” she said.
“Do they now? Well, that’s going to worry me for days. Who the hell are you? ”
“Reba. I was named after a white lady that sings.”
“Yeah?” Leonard said.
“Mama liked that cracker shit. I don’t. I like me some real music. I mainly go by Little Woman.”
“You just made that up,” Leonard said.
“Startin’ now, then.”
“I like Reba,” Leonard said. “I mean the singer, if that’s who you’re talking about. You I don’t like at all, you little snot-nosed pile of rat shit.”
“Leonard,” I said. “Kid.”
“This ain’t no kid. That there is a fucking four-hundred-year-old midget vampire.”
“Fuck you,” Reba said.
“Fuck you too,” Leonard said.
“You ain’t black at all?”
“What the fuck color am I? This look like shoe polish to you?”
“Uncle Tom is your color.”
“Yeah, well, you want to stay in the goddamn projects and wear your own shower cap and house shoes and whine about the Man keeping you down, you go on and do it. Me, I spit in the Man’s fucking face, tell him it’s face wash, and he’s got to like it.”
“I hope you get et up by a tiger,” she said, walking away.
“Not likely,” Leonard said.
“Leonard, really? You’re going to pick a fight with a kid?”
“She started it. Ancient midget-ass motherfucking vampire.” He yelled out to her then. “I hope your fucking tricycle has a flat.”
She kept walking away, and without looking back, she stuck her hand up in a fist, extended her middle finger.
I suspect (and sincerely hope) that she will become a recurring character, which makes me very happy. Though really I want Leonard to adopt her so they become a mean angry kick-ass family of crime solvers.
It's not a deep book, but sometimes deep is not what I want. For funny, light-hearted entertainment, you could hardly do better.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.
Mr. Potter by Jamaica Kincaid. A hard book to review, mainly because it doesn't really have a plot and barely has characters and it isn't even entirely clear as to which genre it belongs – memoir or novel – though the one thing it is closer to than anything else is poetry.
Let me demonstrate with the opening paragraph:
And that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way so harshly bright, making even the shadows pale, making even the shadows seek shelter; that day the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, but Mr. Potter did not note this, so accustomed was he to this, the sun in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky; if the sun had not been in its usual place, that would have made a great big change in Mr. Potter's day, it would have meant rain, however briefly such a thing, rain, might fall, but it would have changed Mr. Potter's day, so used was he to the sun in its usual place, way up above and in the middle of the sky. Mr. Potter breathed in his normal way, his heart was beating in its normal way, up and down underneath the covering of his black skin, up and down underneath his white knitted cotton vest next to his very black skin, up and down underneath his plainly woven white cotton shirt that was on top of the knitted cotton vest which lay next to his skin; so his heart breathed in its normal way. And he put on his trousers and in the pocket of his trousers he placed a white handkerchief; and all this was as normal as the way his heart beat; all this, his putting on his clothes in just that way, as normal as the way his heart beat, the heart beating normally and the clothes reassuring to Mr. Potter and to things beyond Mr. Potter, things that did not know they needed such reassurance.
The entire book goes on this way, full of repetitions and a focus on oddly specific little details while the larger picture is left vague, only gestured at rather than depicted. Certain phrases occur over and over again throughout the book until they take on the feeling of a chorus or chant: a line drawn through him; Mr. Potter was my father, my father's name was Mr. Potter; Mr. Potter was born in nineteen hundred and twenty-two and he died in nineteen hundred and ninety-two; Mr. Potter could not read and Mr. Potter could not write. The story, such as it is, is about Roderick Potter, a poor chauffeur on Antigua: his parents (his father who never acknowledged him and his mother who committed suicide when he was young), the man who owns the car Mr. Potter drives (from Lebanon, with his own tragic history of exile), one of his customers (Dr. Weizenger, about whose past we never learn more than that he is fleeing Prague in the 1940s, but really, what more is there to say than that? – to say someone is fleeing Prague in the 1940s is to say exactly what they're fleeing from), Mr. Potter's own many illegitimate children, one of whom grows up to be a writer and becomes the narrator of this book. More than a story, it's a lyrical observation of colonialism, racism, poverty, sexism and broken families, tragedies carried down the generations, all the general global and individual ills of every life, and the ability – or the lack of it – to recognize and articulate such problems. And, most of all, whose voice will be heard doing so.
I think I liked it, overall, though it's a weird book to grapple with. It's a very good example of a very particular thing, but if a 150 page prose poem about the narrator's unknown harsh-but-suffering father doesn't sound appealing, I don't think the actual experience of Mr. Potter will change your mind.
Mount TBR update: 14!
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Blood & Beauty by Sarah Dunant. A novel about the Borgias from my favorite melodramatic historical fiction author!
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