October 11, 2013

Minnesota with a Mean Streak: a review of Anthony Neil Smith's "Yellow Medicine"

Yellow Medicine

by Anthony Neil Smith

first published in 2008


Some say noir is just a story with no heroes. If that's the case, then Yellow Medicine is most definitely noir, because its protagonist, Billy LaFitte, is a far cry from a hero.

LaFitte is a man of the law, but he's never let that get in the way of doing the right thing. After leaving New Orleans in disgrace, losing his job, his wife and son, and all general faith in mankind, he winds up working for his ex-wife's brother who is a sheriff in a Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota. It's a dull, dreary existence with only the occasional meth head to exploit for protection money, local drunks to take his frustrations out on, and a pretty psychobilly chick to pine over on those cold, lonely nights.

Things might have gone sour for him eventually, but it becomes a near certainty when Drew, that pretty psychobilly chick, shows up at his door pleading for help. Her boyfriend is missing and she's worried he's gotten into trouble with local drug dealers. A thorn in Lafitte's side, but it's nothing he can't handle, and it might score points with Drew. But when he finally finds the lowlife, Lafitte finds himself up against a group of hombres he would never have anticipated, and now that he's on their radar, it's his life that's on the line.

Look, if you thought the Coen Brothers' film, Fargo, cast a grim portrait of the tundra-esque landscape of mid-north America, that movie looks downright Rockwellian compared to the tale Anthony Neil Smith has cooked up. Never mind that Billy Lafitte is from "away," because there are plenty of unsavory characters to be seen that were born and raised in Yellow Medicine. Still, they don't hold a candle to the remorseless sorts that have a bulls-eye on Lafitte's chest. He's not that likable a character, but he winds up being everyone's best shot at catching the bad guys--at least when he's not sabotaging his own efforts by letting ego and greed get in the way.

Drugs, murder, and all round mayhem all with a Minnesota backdrop make Yellow Medicine one of the best times I've had reading about bad people. And wouldn't you know it's the first in a trio of books, the next of which, Hogdoggin', I already have on my to-be-read pile.

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