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The Two-Bear Mambo

Joe R. Lansdale

Mysterious Press

US Hardcover Trade

ISBN 0-89296-491-X

273 pages; $19.95

Date Reviewed: 04-02-1996

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002




11-13-02, 12-31-02, 04-30-03, 06-14-04

Texan writer Joe R. Lansdale loves his two ne'er-do-wells Hap ( goal-less and white) and Leonard (angry, gay and black) so much it's difficult for the reader not to feel the same. In "The Two Bear Mambo", Lansdale's third Hap and Leonard book, the two friends manage to find themselves a whole bunch of trouble while looking for Florida, Leonard's one-time lawyer and Hap's one-time lover, in a nasty little burg out in the wilds of east Texas. It seems that Grovertown doesn't cotton too much to blacks who "don't know their place", and Florida, a black woman layer investigating the death of the son of a blues prodigy in Grovertown's jail, surely qualifies. Clueless but motivated, Hap and Leonard blunder into Grovertown.

Fortunately for the reader, the main attraction of "The Two-Bear Mambo" is Hap's voice and not his plans. Lansdale has found an easy-going tale-spinner's first person narrator in Hap, and more than in the first two books, he lets the voice itself, rather than the plot shape the story. Every page contains a clever phrase or a description that gives the reader a good, if lowbrow laugh. But beneath that lowbrow invective is a careful characterization of a man who is going nowhere at an easy pace. Hap, for all his wit, is a good friend to Leonard and not much else. He needs a career, a goal, something that Florida chastised him for that still rings in his brain. Finding Florida in a godawful backwater town full of dangerous hatemongering morons barely lasts out the novel.

Leonard, on the other hand, at least has plans beyond his friendship with Hap. He has his lover, Raul, and his uncle's house to take care of, and his neighbor's house to burn down periodically, when the crack dealers who inhabit it get out of line. The plot of "The Two Bear Mambo" is linear, and not particularly full of surprises, but the delivery is pretty rootin' tootin' funny, in a making-fun-of-rednecks fashion. Still, by the end of the novel, the reader is inclined to want Hap to take Florida's advice to get a life. There's only so far you can go on a voice alone, and Lansdale goes farther than most. "The Two-Bear Mambo" is an enjoyable, hilarious novel and sometimes frustrating novel, where the main character talks so much and so well, in the end, the reader will be talking to the writer.