At the beginning of Anthony Neil Smith’s Yellow Medicine its anti-hero narrator, Billy Lafitte, is in serious trouble; he’s in prison on charges of being a traitor, a murderer and a terrorist. His interrogator, Agent Rome, seems to have a personal beef with him and his options are less than zero. From here the novel moves back in time to what got Lafitte in prison in the first place, other than himself.
Lafitte is a very bent cop. Kicked out of the force in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he gets a second chance in the very different environment of Minnesota. Here he doesn’t change so much as get worse. He takes backhanders from meth cookers and dealers, he’ll quite happily lean on those who get in his way. He gets asked by a previous sexual conquest, who he would like to turn into a more permanent thing, to help her drug dealing boyfriend with some trouble from what appears to be outside dealers looking to muscle in on the local action. Lafitte agrees but soon finds out that what he’s dealing with is something more horrific than this, an enemy that cares little for the rules, an enemy looking to do a lot more than just muscle in on the drug scene, an enemy that knows exactly how to push Lafitte’s buttons; leaving him flailing desperately to try and dig himself out of an ever deepening cesspool…
Yellow Medicine has superb pacing and is served up in choppy, stripped-back prose, which serves the story excellently. Lafitte makes for a complicated anti-hero. He’s happy to bribe, steal and coerce and gain sexual favours from his profession, but at the same time he’s the kind of guy who won’t miss an alimony payment to his wife and kids. He’s a man almost without a home, but at the same time he’s prepared to defend his country from a much worse threat than drug dealers when pushed. My favourite character though is actually Lafitte’s brother-in-law, the sheriff who offers him a second chance. At the beginning he seems a bit of a ‘pussy’, but at the end is prepared to risk it all to help Lafitte and his family when things go very badly. He’s an excellently realised character.
The one character who didn’t quite do it for me was Agent Rome. He seemed a bit one-note, but it’s a minor complaint, because everything else is so nicely handled. Plus, I think Rome’s character will undoubtedly be fleshed out further in Hogdoggin, the sequel. I enjoyed Yellow Medicine and recommend it to all those who like their crime fiction served dark and as cool as a Minnesota field in winter.