Pure pulp fiction which doesn’t take itself too seriously, Gator Bait was a taut, toothy grin from beginning to end. You know you’re in for a rollicking ride when the spilled blood soaks in to the sawdust floor, and Smitty Three Fingers plays that bad boy boogie on the ol’ pee-anna down at The Grinnin’ Gator. However, Smitty ain’t hiding out in swampland Louisiana because his musicianship stinks – it surely doesn’t – but because his love-life leads him into seriously sticky situations – it surely does. There’s a good reason why someone lopped off two of his fingers with a cigar cutter and he’s now on the run, leaving bodies piling up behind him.
Could things get any worse? Of course they could.
Author Adam Howe sets this blistering story of backwoods noir in Prohibition-era America, and populates his seedy gin joint with lunkhead henchmen, a fabulous femme fatale and a possessive proprietor who Smitty should steer well clear of. He doesn’t, of course, and almost immediately he’s up to his ass in less than allegorical alligators.
Howe hits all the right notes with his dry dialogue and single-line descriptions that skilfully skewer their subjects. He submerges the reader in the stink, sweat and threats of a suffocating swamp honkytonk without wasting a word and delivers Deep South dialect with aplomb. Honing a truly hardboiled story – even a relatively short novella like this one – is a tougher trick than it looks, and many writers simply can’t sustain the sardonic tone of a knowing narrative for the entire tale. Adam Howe makes it look easy.
You won’t find deep philosophical debate or 21st century angst in this story. Instead it’s a solid rendition of old-skool noir: deeply nasty in parts; intense, explicit and exhilarating throughout. A great way to meet an intriguing new author.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Gator Bait by Adam Howe is available as an ebook