Yellow Medicine (Billy Lafitte, #1)
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It makes a cool change to follow a protagonist who is an absolute arse, with hardly a redeeming feature to latch to. At least in the early stages of this Anthony Neil Smith novel set in the American Midwest.
We meet Billy Lafitte, a Yellow Medicine copper, fancying the knickers off another man’s girlfriend, Drew, promising to help her boyfriend, Ian, with some drug trouble he’s got himself into, only so he can get in her good books so he can have her to himself. To be fair, he wants her on her terms, rather than just wanting an easy lay, which is what he’s after with just about every other attractive woman in the area.
And so starts Lafitte’s second nightmare. We learn he took backhanders during his previous incarnation as a Mississippi cop during Hurricane Katrina, taking all the advantages he could from that catastrophe. Found out and disgraced he is now in frozen Minnesota, exiled from his wife, kids, and Mississippi warmth, and taking backhanders from meth cooks and dealers. All this while his brother-in-law gives his career a second chance. Only it turns out that Ian is in serious debt to a bunch of Islamist terrorists who use beheadings to get their way. And now they’re furious because Lafitte won’t play ball.
Yellow Medicine is a mad, lurching, somersaulting ride into a dark zone enough to freak you out. The bad guys are so hell-bent on using Lafitte to ease their money-raising activities that they make the protagonist’s actions and personality completely sane in comparison. But Lafitte’s past is so degraded that he worries how everything might look, so hides or doctors the plants (a knife and photographs) they intend to incriminate him with, instead of turning them over to his colleagues. And what he has to hide is a head. It leads to more headless bodies, and a hunt for the bastards who did it all.
The novel is about corruption erupting after national disasters, with Lafitte and his ex-partner falling off the rails after Katrina, and government agents going rogue after 9/11, bending the law and doing whatever they feel is right to either keep the country safe, or to push their own promotion.
Fast-paced and hardly stopping to allow the reader to put the kettle on for a brew, ANS piles on the stakes until you root for bad bastard Lafitte. You can roll your eyes all you want at his space shuttle-sized cock ups, but when he’s up against head-choppers, you want him to win.
For all its entertainment, it’s not flawless. Drew seems insufficiently affected by the deaths around her, and the interactions between her and Lafitte are a little stiff. Lafitte also seems a little unworldly. He whines about why terrorists hate America, and leaves it at that. His brother-in-law says at one point that it is because of people like him. It’s not explored enough, and it would have benefited from it, considering the antagonists would love to blow the US to a pulp.
Still, it doesn’t overly affect what is a cracking piece of entertainment, with a main character you can love to hate.