As I stated in my piece on Anthony Neil Smith’s Yellow Medicine, the main goose that prodded me to download that book and Hogdoggin’was Les Edgerton’s suggestion that they might give some notions re how to handle backstory in my The Second Vendetta–Recently finished and on the agent/publisher market, owing significantly to messrs Smith and Edgerton. If it ever comes time to compose that acknowledgements page, you’ll both appear. Like Les, I also promise to show up on your doorstep with beer and bourbon and, also like Les, I remind you that I write fiction.
But about Hogdoggin’ itself. We left Billy Lafitte at the end of Yellow Medicine beat and lost but apparently not in danger of immediate arrest or death from the federal or local local law or from meth dealers or terrorists. When we last see him, he’s about to make a phone call, but we we never see him pick up or hear a conversation. Twisting in the literary wind, is where we’re left.
We find him up in Hogdoggin’ months later as the chief enforcer of a brutal motorcycle gang. You have to hand it to Smith. He’s not afraid to go over the top. The gang’s leader is a huge guy named Steel God. You can guess what he’s called for short. The little society is elemental and tribal. The king is old and sick, the natives are restless, and rebellion is brewing– a movement to topple the ruler and raise a new one. Billy’s role is to protect the head guy as well as (some believe) to take his place should the rebellion succeed. A tangled web for Billy, who’s more of a direct action kind of guy not naturally built for political nuance.
Then comes the phone call. Trouble involving the wife and two kids he’s left behind in New Orleans. Turns out Franklin Rome, the chief nemesis FBI agent from Yellow Medicine hasn’t been obeying federal orders to keep away from Billy. Rome hasn’t bothered the Minnesota case which got him in such hot water in the first place. Instead, he’s been trying to dig up old bones re Billy’s Gulf Port/Katrina days, and he’s been using Billy’s ex and kids to do it. Rome figures to not only extract incriminating info, but flush Billy out of hiding where he and Lafitte can go mano-a-mano and settle the blood feud that still churns through Rome’s gut and mind 24-7.
The agent’s ploy works, though in ways and with consequences he never imagines. And we’re in for some surprises, too. One of the premises of noir appears to be that everyone’s a shit in at least one way or another, and that the shit will come out under stress. Another is, that no one gets what they’re looking for at least in the way they were expecting. Smith puts those principles in relief by giving virtually every significant character in the book his/her 5-15 pages of fame–at least one POV chapter. And he pulls it off the parade without interrupting the flow of the story or disturbing the fictive dream. You start to get to know, even like, someone, then they’re dead. C’est la dirty ol’ noir vie. Well done. Keeps the reader–at least this one–locomotivating through the book.
But, you ask, or should, what about Billy? He’s much the same reckless, passionate lord of misrule he was in Yellow Medicine, but the ante here is up even higher. He’s got dark forces pursuing him from all sides and in ways even more dangerous. Count ‘em–1) The legit FBI; 2) the rogue FBI (Rome and a crew of misfits he’s gathered); 3) a pair of sheriff/FBI wannabes; 4) armed country huffers out on a spree; 5) Not to mention God and his girl. 6) and a mystery character you’ll absolutely love.I probably left out someone. Was ever anybody in more trouble than this?
They tell you to put your protagonist into so much trouble even you don’t know how he’s going to get out of it. Smith does that. Question is, does he get him out of it? Take a look at the end, then tell me whether Billy survives. Maybe we should tweet the author some votes. There are some vague clues, but I hesitate to make too much out of them.
One more thing. I opined at the end of my Yellow Medicine commentary that Franklin Rome was going to get his comeuppance in Hogdoggin’, Well, it’s clear he gets a comeuppance, but in what form? Again, you tell me. It might be a hint that the author’s next book, Choke On your Lies, appears not to feature Billy, at least in the /Amazon peek I took. don’t know if Smith has a commitment problem–that’s between him and his therapist and his significant others–but he loves leaving his readers on the edge of our seats. Like Shakespeare at the end of Measure for Measure–now there’s a classical reference to give noir some respectability. You’re welcome.