Private investigators Hap and Leonard stumble across a young woman fleeing from her torturers and wind up having to keep on saving her life in Joe R. Lansdale's "The Elephant of Surprise."

A wild storm is wreaking havoc in East Texas, a (rather obvious) metaphor for the hell being unleashed by the pursuers going after Hap and Leonard's charge, a young woman they find with her tongue half cut out and the men who aim to finish the job at her heels. The story follows the pair as they attempt to find one safe haven after another for this young woman, named Nikki, and then scamper to save their collective butts when each place proves inadequate. 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.

(Lansdale will speak and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information: bookpeople.com)

'Cathy' creator is back

Cathy Guisewite, the creator of an iconic cartoon strip, shares her quirky humor in prose form in "Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault: Essays From the Grown-up Years."

Like millions of other women, Guisewite, creator of the megapopular comic strip “Cathy,” has fears, concerns, and outrages; from 1976 to 2010, she expressed them all with a delightful sense of fun. Now that she’s retired from drawing her “Cathy” strip, which at its peak appeared in more than 1,400 newspapers, the author turns to prose, presenting short essays and sidebars about her major life change when the strip ended. “I got older,” she writes, “which I hadn’t factored in, and became even more obnoxious and belligerent than my child or my parents, incapable of even committing to exercise five minutes a day. I thought that when I quit my job, the pace of all the change would slow down. But it didn’t. It sped up.” The author’s topics, many of which she explored in her comic strip, range widely: aging parents who refuse to let go of their stuff and don’t feel old despite being in their 90s; how she has outgrown all her shoes; eating and skin care habits and body image issues; inability to fit into a sports bra; desire to commit to an exercise program; terror at trying on a swimsuit; the difficulties of organizing a house; her life with her now college-bound daughter and how much things have changed for women since her own mother was young. Although some of the essays are repetitive and clunky in their attempts at comedy, Guisewite hits the mark more often than not. It’s a collection that isn’t likely to appeal to readers who were never “Cathy” fans (Ack!), but the author offers a new way to savor the humor of her classic comic-strip character.

Absurd and often witty takes on life as a caregiver, mother, and woman.