Book Review : Joe R. Lansdale - Mucho Mojo (1994)

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I thought about Hanson. I wanted to be mad at him, but he hadn't done anything but respond to what was there to respond to. Hell, I liked the big bastard. Really. He was a swell guy. I just hoped his dick would fall off.

I consider reading a Joe R. Lansdale novel to be a win-win situation. It's like eating sushi or playing a sport you really love. It's both a pleasant experience and good for you. Lansdale is a true original who created his own paradigm in pulp fiction. I can't say enough good things about the guy. The Hap & Leonard series is known amongst his fans as some of his best work. After reading SAVAGE SEASON last fall, I had to agree. East Texas' most unlikely couple are some of the most charming, witty amateur sleuths you will find in the publishing industry. If the gorgeous characterization and the deep and subtle plot of SAVAGE SEASON made me drop to one knee, MUCHO MOJO made me consider invest in knee pads because this is an eleven volumes series. Sincerely, I will try to remain rational throughout this review but I am slowly learning that I like Lansdale's novels to a point I somewhat lose sight of why I do. I don't like 'em. I love 'em.

MUCHO MOJO picks up right after the events of SAVAGE SEASON. Leonard is still nursing his injuries from the Trudy fiasco. Thing is, Leonard learns that his uncle Chester, who raised him and shunned him after learning he was homosexual, has passed away and gave him his house. He asks for Hap's help to sort his uncle's things out, so Hap moves in with Leonard in Chester's old house for a while. Going through Chester's business, they find out a series of alarming things that will lead them to a child's skeleton under the floorboards. Was Chester a child killer? Grieving, confused, Leonard refuses to even ask himself this question and the duo starts investigating that grim discovery. That will lead them on to the last months of uncle Chester, who died in a very dark place, next to a crack house, facing the worst possible kind of monster.Was that monster himself?

I gave you a pretty exhaustive synopsis of what was going on, but it's impossible to give it to you completely and that's what makes a Joe Lansdale novel what it is. They are complex objects. I'm not even mad about it, because that will leave you at least two dozens of things to discover I can't even get into here. One thing I will address though is the theme of mortality. It's part of what makes MUCHO MOJO so strong. Hap and Leonard are both confronted to a tragic death (Uncle Chester) and to the frailty of life (support character MeMaw). With these two variables, Lansdale is already cheating the classic trope of tough guy novels where death is handled like candy. Lansdale examines mortality through the existential questioning of Leonard and through the grim observations of Hap and because of that, every death that occurs through MUCHO MOJO weights heavier and heavier. Lansdale doesn't treat death as a commodity and ironically, that contributes in making is novels feel more alive than most.

"You could just put the trunk back in the hole, you know. He's done what he's done, and now he's beyond punishment and can't hurt anyone else. You could just go on with things."

"You don't mean that?"

"No...Just a small, sad part of me means it."

When I say I'm trying to be rational here, you have to know that I like my fiction to have precise things. A slow pace? I love when things don't cascade down the page. It creates tension. MUCHO MOJO has that. A heavy atmosphere? It's the name of the game for me. Your book could be about someone doing his groceries, as long as he's doing them in a concrete wasteland, that the neon lights are throbbing and that creepy bystanders are ogling him, I'm going to read it and like it. MUCHO MOJO has a thick, suffocating atmosphere. A deep emotional range? That's a tricky one and not many writers aside from Joe Lansdale do correctly. If everything is always dark and sad, I'll feel you're trying to pry an emotion from me. A deep emotional range will give me reasons to like your characters and even more reasons to like your book. Lansdale, in MUCHO MOJO uses the friendship between Hap and Leonard to go into things that go way beyond his storyline. I loved that book, I'm not afraid to say it, but I loved it for reasons that are entirely subjective. You may hate MUCHO MOJO, but if you do, I'd probably hate everything you love to read and do, in general.

So do I have some criticism or what? Yes, I do. Although it's very minor. Let me put my Captain Nit-Picky hat for a second. See, Hap and Leonard are chasing a child killer. I don't like that figure in fiction, the child killer. It's too easy to hate. Two other things I like in fiction are subtlety and moral ambiguity. The only weakness of Hap and Leonard for me, is that they're an indestructible unit * that fights evil. But really, this is highly subjective and really, really minor. I enjoyed MUCHO MOJO, even more than I enjoyed SAVAGE SEASON. It's slower, darker, has a predatory pace. Our two heroes are still beacons of light, but they are in the darkest depths of oblivion, here. Knowing that I have nine more volume to go ( a tenth is also schedules sometime before 2020) maybe me giddy. It's common knowledge that Joe R. Lansdale is a black belt in several martial arts (and it's also obvious he knows the fight game when you read Hap and Leonard) and if there were black belts given for storytelling, he'd be a tenth degree, grandmaster. Not many people can tell a story as well as Joe Lansdale and that's what makes his book releases happenings in the crime fiction community.


* In the sense that they'll always be together and understand each other, not that they're immortal.


I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.

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