Monday, August 15, 2011

[There] was no after. Only an end

First and foremost, I want to thank Ben from Dead End Follies for this book. He described it as "very visceral crime fiction". I can't say I've read a lot of crime fiction but it sounded good and I trust a recommendation from him. Plus free!

Anthony Neil Smith's Hogdoggin' is the follow up to his book Yellow Medicine, which I've not yet read. However, I didn't actually realize this was a sequel until I started looking at reviews on Goodreads after I finished reading the book* so I can first say the book works without having read Yellow Medicine. Maybe I missed details or connections that would have been obvious had I read the first book but no matter. I was entertained anyway. "Hogdoggin'" is described as "a new backwoods sport in which Pit Bulls or Rotts were put into a pen with a mostly helpless hog. The dog would rip into the pig, and all the people had themselves a grand time watching the carnage" (location 883). The story follows a number of characters, with the point of view changing multiple times in each chapter. We primarily follow Bill Lafitte, former cop turned enforcer for a biker gang as he's called back to his old life and Franklin Rome, the ex-FBI agent that has been officially taken off the case and has made hunting down Lafitte his vigilante mission.

The book is violent. Smith lays it on you right away as we watch Steel God, the leader of the biker gang, deal with a member of his gang that's been ratting on him. It's not pretty. I'm certain I was pulling some ridiculous faces while I read this scene while trying to to picture it in too much detail. The violence isn't gratuitous. There's a lot of it but it serves the story. You even see why the various characters commit the violence they do, whether or not it was necessary. Some use violence as a last resort, some as that first handshake, but they all use it. With every page things go from bad to worse and each time you think that's it, things have to start getting better for these guys, the bottom falls out and things become even more hopeless.

My favorite character was Steel God, which probably doesn't say very positive things about me. He's one of those violence-as-a-handshake guys, the one who has no problem using violence. Normally I'm not a fan of violent characters, unless the violence couldn't be avoided. If that was all Smith did with Steel God there wouldn't be much to like about the guy. But if that's all Smith did the book overall wouldn't have been worth it. He's a smart guy and an excellent judge of character, especially those of the criminal bent. I didn't think much about the character at first until he was gone. As soon as he wasn't there I was disappointed I'd be following around these other non-Steel God characters.

As much as I like Steel God, Smith failed a bit for me with the female characters. They didn't quite work for me. They were close to being fully realized. He came so close but just didn't push the females past caricatures. All of the women have this Lady Macbeth vibe, manipulating the men in the life to get to the top. All of them. Except Lady Macbeth had more depth.
"[McKeown] could tell that Colleen was back there pulling the strings, feeding Nate questions, pushing her man to be more aggressive in dealing with the Feds. Good woman to have behind you, if you could stand it."
You could replace "Colleen" with almost any of the other female characters and change "Nate" to whatever guy they were near and it would still work. Even when you're getting a chapter from the woman's point of view I still don't know the why behind their actions.

To end this on a high note, I loved the ending. Loved it. However there might be some spoilers so here's your warning.
When I read the last line and realized that was it, there was no more, I laughed. Smith ends the book when tensions are so high you have to laugh or scream or something to release all of that energy. I laughed, thought "Smith, you asshole," and shook my head in admiration. Because the ending just...happened. And the thing is, it worked.
Spoilers over

*I tend to read reviews after I've read something. Or at least if I already plan on reading something. I want to go in without any preconceived notions. Or at least as few as I can get away with.

Title quote from location 1552

Neil Smith, Anthony. Hogdoggin'. Bleak House Books, 2009