Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sometimes being feared is an educational thing

Back in August I read Hogdoggin' by Anthony Neil Smith. Now in January of the next year and I'm finally getting around to the first book, Yellow Medicine. I suppose it would make the most sense to have read these in order, but why would I do something that makes sense? And because I read the sequel first, I can't help but think of the first book as a prequel. Whether that changes the way I viewed the book or not I guess I don't really know but I may as well put it out there.

Like Hogdoggin' and the other Smith book I read Choke On Your Lies, this story is a tense, violent and graphic crime story. Billy Lafitte is a dirty cop. He may mean well, his actions may be to keep his town safe, but he's not a Batman* vigilante doing the right thing above all else, even if it means breaking the law. He takes kickbacks from meth dealers, he (almost) trades sex with a college student in return for not busting her on some minor drug possession, he is far from an angel. Think of him like Vic Mackey from The Shield. Except I liked Vic Mackey, even though I knew he was awful. I didn't like Lafitte. And I expected to because I liked the guy in the sequel. Characters talked about his charisma repeatedly but I just saw him as a scumbag that had moments of morality. Also there's a point where he's described as having "a full mustache and 'burns, something about the seventies" which really doesn't help dispel the creepy scumbag factor**.

Please don't let this make you think I disliked the book. I didn't like Lafitte, but I liked the story. I expected to like Lafitte, not only because I liked him in Hogdoggin', but also because the book is from Lafitte's point of view. Generally when that happens you tend to sympathize with your narrator, even when you hate what they're doing. Consider it Narrative Stockholm Syndrome. But I thought the structure of Yellow Medicine, having a single narrator instead of several, worked better for the story. It kept the tension up instead of jumping around so much. And there's a lot of tension. Murders, meth dealers, gangs, terrorists. What's not to love?

It was a little bit hard to believe how much Lafitte was willing to risk for the Drew. He's drawn into everything because she asks him to help her out and that little favor snowballs, but that only explained the beginning. As the story went on I never felt like I saw anything that showed me how much he cared for Drew. He said it a number of times, and it was his reason for getting deeper and deeper into the chaos, but it always felt like an excuse. Like he would have done it anyway and was justifying this to us. Or himself. But this is a small complaint.

It's hard for me to say which I liked better: Yellow Medicine or Hogdoggin'. I like the first-person structure of Yellow Medicine and I thought it worked better to keep tensions high. But I LOVED the ending of Hogdoggin'. Loved it. That did a lot. In the end, both are good, tight crime stories.

*As soon as I said prequel I thought of Batman Begins. It's not that the book reminded me of Batman at all; it's that my own ramblings did.
**Yes, yes, having a mustache doesn't make someone a scumbag but really, if you were to equate facial hair with certain personality traits, mustache would def be swinging towards the creep factor. Or '70s porn factor. But there are exceptions to this. Ron Swanson for example. Lafitte is not Ron Swanson.

Title quote from location 1055

Smith, Anthony Neil. Yellow Medicine. Bleak House Books, 2008. Kindle edition.