Last week, a reader commented on a love for Southern Gothic Novels, so I thought I'd review one I read recently. Mucho Mojo is the second in the much acclaimed Hap Collins and Leonard Pine series by Texas author, Joe R. Lansdale. I picked it up in the library after having read a standalone by Lansdale and going "wow." I later read that many fans think this novel is the best in the series. I guess I'll just have to read others to find out.
Hap is a white trash sort of guy from Texas who is down on his luck. His friend, Leonard, is a flashy dressing, homosexual black man. They make an unlikely pair as friends; in their spare time, they run into mysteries and trouble. When the novel opens, Leonard has inherited his Uncle Chester's house and some money. He finds out he has inherited more when he makes a gruesome find in the house. Hap and Leonard must solve a mystery and clear Chester's name. The title of the novel refers to a bottle tree that is in Uncle Chester's yard; this tree is supposed to keep evil away. It's a spooky little detail that makes the novel stand out.
This little novel is suspenseful, creepy, funny, politically incorrect, philosophical, and intelligent. Lansdale's characters are not afraid to take on race, religion, and sexuality. I found myself laughing out loud often, but Lansdale has the gift of making you laugh and then making you get mighty serious with the turn of the page. There is a complicated, smart love story in the novel as well. The ending of this one is haunting, and it's just about perfect all around. I picked up another in the series at a thrift store recently, and I will be reading it soon.
Characterization: 5/5 [I love both Hap and Leonard; in fact, I like them so much that I can't figure out who I would want to play them, but I'd love to see the movie(s). Other characters are well drawn, too.]
Plot: 4/5 [The plot moves pretty steadily, and I guess I want to say that no one writes quite like Joe R. Lansdale-- at least no author I know of yet. He's good at plot twists and at not choosing the happy option all the time. His plots mirror life in that way.]
Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [The bottle tree is spooky as are some of the collected items that Uncle Chester leaves behind, not to mention the skeletons that make their appearance in the novel. This one had me thinking about the dark side of humanity by the time it was done.]
Literary? 4/5 [This novel is smartly written, but it doesn't get high and mighty. Lansdale tackles race, sexism, religion, and other issues with a deft touch and often with bawdy, adult language. His style is decidedly, gloriously Southern.]
Romance? Yes... but it's not all happy go lucky.
Rating: 4+ stars ****+
I highly recommend this one. If you want to fall in love with two new characters and with a novel series that has a Southern Gothic feel to it, try these out. Don't you just love that cover with the orange, yellow, and black and the Gothic script?