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.

Why did you become a crime fiction reader/writer?

I’m always intrigued to find out what makes my (alas, very few) readers and blog readers tick. And as I like to think that we all got into crime fiction because one novel crept through and somehow twisted our young psyches, I’m interested to find out what that novel was and why it had the effect that it did. I’ll kick this list off then…

The book which made me an avid reader of crime fiction was Elmore Leonard’s LaBrava, and I was fifteen. The reason I picked it up was because it had a glowing review on the cover by Stephen King, who at that time was my favourite writer (if the guy had written a laundry list I would have read it). I bought LaBrava, took it home and devoured it in one sitting, which meant that I was late for school the next day (because I stayed up until the early hours of the morning). I enjoyed it so much that I bought another four second-hand Leonard’s the next week. Slowly, but surely, Stephen King’s recommendation meant that he slipped down the league of my favourite writers as I replaced him with Leonard, early James Ellroy and found a couple of ancient and tattered Jim Thompson novels (slightly duff ones though – Texas By The Tail being one of them). The book that really made me want to write crime fiction was the Jim Thompson omnibus, which was published by Picador in 1995. As much as I’d enjoyed Texas By The Tail (though it’s a slightly crappy Thompson, to be honest), the reason I bought the omnibus was because of the introduction by Tim Willocks, whose Green River Rising I had only just recently read. It was enough for me to buy it and race through the four mind-blowing novels within. The Getaway, The Grifters, The Killer Inside Me and Pop 1280 were unlike anything else that I’d read – they blew me away by making me root for their depraved protagonists – and the endings were simply astonishing. After reading Thompson everything felt different, like a whole new world had been opened up to me. I started writing short stories, or devised novel plots (all of them rubbish), with a noir sensibility. And I started seriously ploughing through the work of other noir and hardboiled writers. I had several false starts with novels, but eventually, after reading more Thompson, I went back to my past, borrowed from it, and devised a novel that I thought Thompson himself might have devised if he’d come from the north of England and had a gambling addiction, which pretty much leads me here…

Anyway, readers and writers, post in the comments box below and let me know who it was that turned you into crime fiction fiends? Who knows, we might all pick up a recommendation or two and read something that blows us away.