Hap and Leonard may be in over their heads this time. They’ve agreed to go looking for a missing woman but the town they end up in may just be the end of them. Even the authorities there barely conceal their bigotry and disinterest in finding the truth. Despite this, they keep asking questions, putting themselves at risk of disappearing too.
The Two Bear Mambo follows on from the previous book, Mucho Mojo, and includes some of the same supporting characters from that novel. While it can be read as a stand alone novel, appreciation of it would be greatly increased by having read the preceding novels.
Small town evil is a running theme in a lot of Joe Lansdale’s work and Grovetown is certainly filled with examples of it. From the casual racism of the majority of its inhabitants, to the way that a large number of them are willing to take part in a group beating of a pair of outsiders, it’s certainly one of the more unpleasant places I can recall reading about. And yet the way the town and its people are drawn, it’s not a cartoon depiction of an evil town. Instead, it’s scary because it’s all too believable.
On the other hand, to leaven things out, there is a great deal of humor in the book as well. This is shown primarily in the relationship between its two main characters. Hap and Leonard, despite the disparities of race and sexual orientation, are as close as brothers and understand each other in ways their respective others (when they have them) don’t. This comes across most strongly in the last third, when they are both trying to deal with the events of the previous pages. It’s only when they both reunite and talk with each other that they are able to move past it.
The writing is by turns funny, gritty and intense; and features a lot of strong and racially charged language. It’s also quite poetic in places, with descriptions of the environments that bring them vividly to life.