YELLOW MEDICINE By Anthony Neil Smith (2011, Kindle Books)
I am starting to wonder if Anthony Neil Smith is capable of writing a bad novel. This is the third one I have read by him and all are first-rate. It doesn’t surprise me at all he teaches creative writing. I hope his students are soaking up his talent.
Yellow Medicine (the title refers to the name of the town in Minnesota where most of the action takes place) is narrated by Deputy Billy Lafitte. He’s a broken-down deputy in a frost bitten county. Removed from the police force in New Orleans for corruption, he only has the job because his ex-brother-in-law wanted to help. Lafitte is a man with a bad moral compass: he likes to bend the rules. But he knows how far he can go.
Unfortunately he and his shift partner bent the rules so far in New Orleans they broke. Lafitte felt he had to do something with Hurricane Katrina hitting land and if he took a few tips from grateful citizens, so what? The investigators saw it differently and he was out of a job, wife, and family. The position in Minnesota was his only way out and he took it.
At the beginning of the novel we learn the deputy has been taking pay-offs from the local meth cookers. He justifies it as a way of keeping things under control. What other jobs that pay decently do these locals have? But he’s always close to the edge: Lafitte threatens a drunk doctor with his gun when the sauced MD makes derogatory remarks about the deputy’s ex-wife.
The plot shifts in fourth gear when a local “psychobilly” singer named Drew asks the deputy to see if he can do something about her boyfriend Ian. Ian has been selling drugs to the wrong people and got his ass branded as a result. Lafitte doesn’t think it’ll involve too much and he has an interest in the girl himself. But he soon discovers Ian’s thug problem is out of control: he’s been dealing with foreign terrorists who want to take over the local meth trade.
This isn’t the deputy from The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Lafitte may have a busted moral center, but he knows right from wrong. He just has a tendency to make the wrong choice. And by the end of the book he’s made so many bad decisions a train wreck has resulted.
I highly recommend this book. It’s difficult to put down.