If you ever wondered what noir fiction was, you’ll find the definition in Anthony Neil Smith’s e-/paperback-book, Yellow Medicine. Start with the protagonist. Deputy sheriff Billy Lafitte is not just flawed. He’s a doofus. Impulsive. Doesn’t think ahead. When he’s intent on bonking someone, he usually fails to check behind him to see if someone else is about to bonk him. All this costs people injury, money, even lives. Still, you root for him. Why, I’m not sure. Maybe because always trying somehow to do the right thing even though he goes about it in every possible wrong–legal or illegal–way imaginable.
The action centers around some terrorists who are moving in on the meth trade in rural Minnesota. Lafitte considers both the geography and the drug traffic his territory. He’s got paid informants inside the labs, tries to keep things under control even if he roams outside of what’s strictly legal to do so. He’s had the same kind of history in his previous law-enforcement gig on Gulf Coast. He crossed a few too many lines during Katrina, taking payoffs from the rich and delivering them to the poor. Even blowing away a nasty guy in the process. All this costs him wife, kids, job. He gets a second chance via a brother-in-law sheriff in Minnesota and he ‘s doing his best to make the best of it. Trouble is, his best isn’t so hot.
Instead of teaming up to take the terrorists out (He doesn’t know they’re Al Quaeda at first.) He tries to take care of everything in his characteristically improvisational and lame-brained manner. Add to this the fact that he has a penchant for jumping the bones of every female he can–whether they’re witnesses or criminals or whatever–and you have a bundle of dangerous messes. Add to that a vengeful FBI guy who is convinced that Billy is not just a bungler but a terrorist himself, and you have witch’s brew. There’s so much violence and blood–beheadings, burnings, dismemberments (by the terrorists as well as by Billy)–and grotesque sex that “noir” doesn’t begin to describe how dark the tale gets. Not quite a horror story, but close.
I’m not sure I can say I liked Yellow Medicine, but I was fascinated throughout. And Smith’s flashback techniques are masterful, which is one of the main reasons Les Edgerton recommended it to me and that aspect paid off because I used some of them them as a model in my rewrite of my Second Vendetta (I’ll let you know when you can look for it on Kindle, etc.) Not only that, I just started reading the Yellow Medicine sequel–Hotdoggin’. Poor Billy Lafitte. But this time, I have a feeling that vengeful FBI guy is going to get his, and it’s going to be oh, so ugly.