Coco Butternut, which came out in January 2017, is a short HAP AND LEONARD novella written by the inimitable Joe R. Lansdale. You may already have read some of these East-Texas, sort-of-detective stories, or seen episodes of the television show on Sundance. While Coco Butternut has no supernatural elements at all that I can spot, it is a fast-paced, enjoyable read with perfectly timed banter, strange and wonderful characters, and perfect, quirky descriptions of the landscape and countryside.
I don’t believe there is a sub-genre called “Texas Weird,” but if there were, Lansdale would own it. He owns it here with a story that kicks off in bizarre-mode from the first sentence. A man who runs a highly successful pet mortuary has approached Hap and Leonard about retrieving the mummified corpse of his mother’s award winning dachshund, Coco Butternut. The mummy has been stolen and is being held for ransom. The over-riding question on everyone’s mind, of course, is voiced by Hap: “Who names a dog Coco Butternut?”
This and many other questions are answers over the course of this brisk eighty-page weirdo adventure. Hap has brought his significant other, Brett (she’s a lawyer), and his recently-discovered adult daughter, Chance, into the family business and every member of the quartet has a part to play in Coco Butternut. The ransom goes wrong, someone is murdered, and the game is on.
I would make a list of what I liked, but that would be just about everything. The dialogue between Leonard and Hap is smooth and funny and has the ease of long-term friendship. It isn’t that the actual text is predictable; there’s something to the rhythm that gives the feel of very old friends who know each other well. The other characters, like the various suspects, have distinctive speech patterns, so it is not a case of everyone sounding the same. The local sheriff’s discomfort with Hap and Leonard because of their work, but his understanding that they have some value to him, is perfectly articulated.
I love the craziness of the story itself, and the mummified dog. (Yes, I said I loved the mummified dog.) I love the description of the Texas landscapes, like one early in the book, of a graveyard at night. Lansdale gives us probable villains and then pulls aside the curtain to show their secret dreams and desires, which adds a tinge of sadness to the tale. And the final chase sequence is heart-poundingly good.
If you read a lot of fantasy and horror, especially grimdark, and/or you read detective fiction, I think you’ll find Coco Butternut a nice chance of pace that still chimes some of those notes. At about eighty pages, this story is a perfect “palate cleanser” before you launch into your next seven-hundred-page Book Two of some shadowy epic martial fantasy.
Coco Butternut is published by Subterranean Press as a specialty book and as an e-book. Given the length, this seems like a perfect match for an e-reader. This was my first outing with Hap and Leonard, but I didn’t feel like I was scrambling to catch up, and it makes me want to track down a few more to read… and then maybe watch the show.