Review: The Baddest Ass by Anthony Neil Smith

Billy Lafitte, the anti-hero from Yellow Medicine and Hogdoggin’, is now in prison after the massacre at the end of the second novel. Considered as a traitor and a dirty cop by other inmates and guards alike, he is public enemy number one – the one prisoner that the others want to kill. Trouble for them is, he’s gone from being a villain with a conscience to a stone cold bad ass and every assassination attempt has ended badly. But Billy’s nemesis, Agent Rome, and his new assistant, Coleen, have arranged what they think is a sure-fire assassination attempt with a seriously corrupt prison guard and his underlings in cooperation with a vicious prisoner, Ri’Chess, who rules the roost in one of the wings. But the problem is that the day of the hit is the day that Billy’s ex-mother in law brings his son to the prison to see his father. Inevitably the hit goes wrong and double- and triple-crosses abound, the guards come to realise that Ri’Chess is using the hit for his own ends, and Colleen and Billy end up fighting to get the man’s family out of the prison alive.

Last year Anthony Neil Smith’s excellent thriller All The Young Warriors just missed out on my top five of the year (by the narrowest of margins), but there was part of me that suspected that Smith’s next book was going to be the big one. And guess what? This is the one, the wildest ride that Smith has done. As dark and cold as its prison setting when the power goes down, it contains moments of extreme nastiness and some extremely vicious and self-serving characters. It heaps misery on top of misery (rape, torture, many murders in various forms) and turns the prison into a charnel house. Smith makes some very bold choices in terms of the plot development and offers little in the way of redemption. It’s easily the finest prison riot novel I have read since Tim Willock’s brilliant Green River Rising, and is without doubt the finest book that Smith has written and, along with Jedidiah Ayre’s Fierce Bitches, is installed as my finest read of 2013 (though not quite sure which one I prefer at the moment). Highly recommended.

Review: Hogdoggin’ by Anthony Neil Smith

The sequel to Yellow Medicine finds Billy Lafitte, former police officer, suspected traitor, and full-time bad guy, riding with a biker gang led by the brutal and savvy giant Steel God. Lafitte has worked his way up to second in command and has God’s respect. But when a call comes in about his ex-wife, Lafitte decides to turn his back on the gang and go and find out exactly why he’s been called back.

Meanwhile, his nemesis, Agent Rome, an FBI agent with a serious grudge against Lafitte, is still trying to pursue his man despite being warned off the case by his employers and his wife. But Rome doesn’t listen and decides to use Lafitte’s emotionally fragile ex-wife as bait to lure him in.

After an ill-fated trip back to Yellow Medicine, Lafitte decides to get back to his family by any means possible, but things go increasingly wrong. Leading to his capture and torture by some idiotic rednecks.

When he decides to call on Steel God for help everything gets really bloody, leading to a showdown, and serious carnage, at a hotel surrounded by the police, with Agent Rome in tow.

Smith’s sequel improves on Yellow Medicine in a number of ways. Firstly, in dispensing with Lafitte’s first person narration it broadens the scope of the story. Rome is no longer the one dimensional FBI guy he appeared to be in the first novel – his run-in with Lafitte at the end of the YM has affected him both professionally and personally and his reasons for pursuing the man seem more believable this time around. Other characters get the opportunity to breathe and Smith does a good job of bringing them to life. Also, the use of multiple character perspectives propels the tale at a faster clip than the first novel managed, especially during the final chapters, which are superbly paced, and Smith’s muscular, clipped prose helps bring it all together in fine style. Fans of noir and hardboiled fiction will find plenty to enjoy here, but it’s written in such a way that fans of more ‘mainstream’ thrillers will get a kick out of it, too. Recommended.

Review – Yellow Medicine by Anthony Neil Smith

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.