Monday, August 25, 2014

REVIEW: The Billy Lafitte novels by Anthony Neil Smith

One of the reasons why this is the best time ever to be a fan of pulp fiction is that there are so many bold, original authors in the scene nowadays writing fiction unlike anything before it. One of the very best examples I can think of is Anthony Neil Smith. Time and again, Smith has displayed an ability to surprise, shock, and entertain readers with strikingly unique storytelling. He has a voice all his own and it is one that you will never forget.

My introduction to Smith was the novel Yellow Medicine. It is the first novel to feature corrupt cop Billy Lafitte. He was dismissed from Gulfport, Ms. after some questionable actions post-Katrina and Yellow Medicine finds him in Minnesota. Smith does an excellent job of handling the great differences between these two places and Lafitte understandably has some trouble adjusting to the climate up north.

At his new home, Lafitte continues his corrupt ways and finds himself caught in a web of violence and insanity involving a drug mob and terrorism. To make matters worse, because of his questionable actions, Lafitte doesn't really seem that innocent. As a result, Lafitte decides to take matters into his own hands and try to set things -- maybe not right -- but as right as they can be with Lafitte still in the equation.

It is hard to explain exactly what I got from the experience of first reading Yellow Medicine. Smith's characterization of Lafitte is superb. Billy Lafitte is one of the most fully realized characters I think I've ever encountered. In spite of his questionable decisions, you cannot help but root for him. This is partially because, while bad, he is at least better than the terrorists. Another reason for this, however, is that Smith so compellingly and so comprehensively lets the reader inside the head of the main character. You see what he sees. You feel what he feels. While you're reading, at least, his twisted point of view becomes your point of view. Anthony Neil Smith cranks it up to 11 and does not let up. Yellow Medicine is one of the most eye-opening reading experiences of my life. It masterfully does what this sort of fiction is supposed to do.

And then there are the sequels...

The saga of Billy Lafitte picks up in Hogdoggin'. Obviously I will not be discussing the finer points of the sequels because I don't want to spoil anything. However, Smith continues to drag Lafitte down in the dirt and he encounters more insane situations. Again, Lafitte's moral compass is uniquely his own. Again still, Smith puts you in his corner. The character of Steel God in Hogdoggin' is one of the more interesting characters I have encountered in recent memory and Billy Lafitte becomes more complex, more vulnerable than ever before.

The third and most recent Lafitte novel is called The Baddest Ass and was published by the great Blasted Heath. Once again, Smith manages to surprise his readers with a balls-to-the-wall insane novel. There was more than one occasion in the third Lafitte novel where I really had no idea where Smith was going with it and each time he managed to surprise me. It is a badass adrenaline-fueled crime novel that will leave you speechless and dying to know what will happen next to Billy Lafitte.

I am a diehard fan of Anthony Neil Smith, in case you hadn't noticed. I have not encountered a novel or story by him that I have not been a big fan of. He is undoubtedly a cult writer, something I believe Smith himself has even acknowledged. What he does is not for everyone. However, you will know immediately if what he does is for you and, if it is, everything he has ever done and will ever do will be for you. He is an unsung hero of the scene, although he is certainly acknowledged quite a bit in the right circles. Like a modern day Gil Brewer, future generations will look back on the work of Anthony Neil Smith as being one of the greatest pulp fiction bibliographies of our time. His writing is pure distilled pulp, free from all the excess crap that the mainstream writers do which audiences skip over. You won't be skipping any pages in a Anthony Neil Smith novel, you'll be rereading them.

You can get Yellow Medicine for your Kindle free. If you haven't read it, you should do so immediately.

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