The twelfth novel in the series is essentially an extended action sequence ... Lansdale’s narrative voice is as wonderful as ever, as is the banter between the mismatched best friends as they punctuate the violence with drolly mundane observations. While this lacks the deeper explorations of race in 2018’s stellar Jackrabbit Smile, and Nikki’s character isn’t exactly memorable, it’s always a pleasure to spend time with Hap and Leonard, even in the worst of circumstances.
Most of the book’s fun is the journey, from the roadside to the police station and ultimately to a long-out-of-business bowling alley where Hap, Leonard and a friend make what is the last stand…for one side, anyway. Leonard’s first-person narrative is also, as one might expect, full of the similes and metaphors for which we all come early and stay late. That said, there are indications that this may be the last outing for the duo, though at least one unresolved element is still riding off into the sunset at the end of the story ... The Elephant of Surprise comes strongly recommended, and that is no surprise at all.
No one writes East Texas humor like Joe E. Lansdale with its down home echoes of Will Rogers, and Mark Twain cynicism. That is a good thing; otherwise, the mounting body count, vivid descriptions of blood and brains, not to mention the loss of various body parts, would remain one too much of American Psycho ... nonstop action with no pause for one to draw a breath. While the pace may seem a little too fast for many, it mirrors the storm that forms the backdrop of the novel. The storm is as relentless as the action ... All in all, Lansdale delivers another exciting East Texas action thriller that will satisfy his many fans, while whetting their appetite for adventures with Hap and Leonard. Well done, Mr. Lansdale.
The book is more relentless than previous outings in the series, with the action moving at a near-constant clip, which has both advantages and drawbacks. Among the former, the headlong pace makes for one vivid set piece after another. Among the latter, a sense of inertia when, inevitably, things have to slow down to provide background for the narrative. Nikki tells Hap and Leonard her story across pages and pages, including more information than we need; it seems like one hell of a marathon gab for someone recovering from having her tongue almost snipped out. Worse is the confrontation with the head bad guy, as verbose and pleased with himself as evil hot shots usually are. There are also the series' periodic lapses into sentimentality and, much more annoying, Hap's twinges of conscience, which will lead him, in the name of avoiding unnecessary violence, to allow some particularly vile species of thug to keep breathing when every shred of common sense should tell him this baddie is going to be trouble very soon down the road. If the series insists on providing Hap with these moments, it should live up to its toughness by making him pay the price for them ... Hap and Leonard remain two of the most likable characters in crime fiction. The writing around them needs to get back to the lean hardness that made the series such a pleasure in the first place.