Hard Bite by Anonymous-9 (Blasted Heath, 2014)
Damn you, Anthony Neil Smith, you’ve turned me onto Anonymous-9 (Elaine Ash) with her over-the-top thriller, Bite Hard. It’s not enough that you keep me wishing for a sequel to Choke On Your Lies, now I’m scampering to find everything Anonymous-9 has written. It’s the mark of a great book when it keeps me captivated, reading onward just to see how the plot turns. I stayed with Bite Hard all the way.
A-9 introduces us to a whole new idea in revenge fiction: a partially paralyzed man in a wheel chair with a monkey as his side kick. Prior to the events in Bite Hard, the protagonist of the story was the victim of a hit-and-run accident which killed his daughter and destroyed his marriage. But, as an insurance actuary, he had all the coverage humanly possible. Now he’s devoted his remaining time on earth to one thing: avenging other victims of hit-and-run accidents. He tracks them down on computer, makes contact after he’s sure of their guilt, then kills them. He’s assisted by his trained companion monkey Sid who sinks his teeth into the perpetrator’s neck the moment his master yells “Bite Hard!”. Then the avenger calls the family of the hit-and-run victim and lets them know the person who killed their loved one has paid.
Complicated his life is a sex worker named Cinda who assists him whenever he needs her. She also serves as the girlfriend in the story. Also is his nurse Blattlatch who tends to show up at the most inappropriate times. But both women figure into the plot and are not through-away inventions.
A9 has a particular way to merge words that create a sense of creep and humor at the same time:
“Winding down Tuna Canyon Road behind the coroner van, sun flashes and plays along the hills and ravines. Doug tries to stay focused on the facts at hand and not give way to the dread tugging at his mind. An actress. An aspiring actress. An aspiring actress new in town. Anything less than ten years is new in town. It takes that long to learn the ropes, first in LA and then the way California works. As everybody else in the rest of America knows, nothing in California works quite the way it does in the rest of the country—from legal marijuana to sanctuary cities that protect gangsters and murderers just as well as it does plain law-abiding folks. Yes, in this cop’s opinion, Cali marches to a very different set of bongos.”
Most of the novel is told from the handicapped avenger’s POV. We don’t even learn his name until the final chapters of the book. But much of it is also told from the third person POV of Detective Doug Coltson, an honest cop who is trying to solve the string of seemingly random murders. And finally there is the POV of Orella Malalinda, the matriarch of a Mexican-American drug gang who is out to avenge her son. Our wheeled revenge instrument has made the unfortunate decision to take out a hit-and-run driver who happened to be the “good” son of his gangster mother.
With Orella Malalinda, A9 has created one of the most memorable villainesses in literature. As someone once said, the best bad guys (or girls) don’t see themselves as the villain. They do what they do out of their own pure motives. With Orella, its preservation of her family and legacy. The one good son, Ambrose, whom she kept out of the drug trade, was supposed to be a priest. She was going to send him to study for the ministry, thus giving back to her god and country all the wealth she had accumulated in the USA. The fact that she’s pushed her deceased husband to murder and slaughter in his pursuit of the drug trade is just how things are done. There’s even a gruesome scene at the shrine of Jesus Malverde, the unofficial patron saint of Mexican drug dealers. Even her two surviving gangster sons, Luis and Mate0, are terrified of her:
“The demon inside her, that even their father dreaded to face, surfaces. For a second her lips purse, her eyes flick from one to the other as an internal countdown to combustion starts. The men imperceptibly lean away, checking for an exit. Her entire body seems to puff under the dark clothing, like an excited bird. Not a harmless bird. This is a bird of prey—all sharp beak, talons and wings that beat you all over.”
A9 credits her years working in the LA entertainment industry as the preparation for this book. I’m sure she’d been storing these characters for years. From the plutocrat with his own private sex dungeon to the Latino day-jobbers who populate the landscape, the scenery has an eerie sense of twisted reality. My only real complaint with this novel is its inconclusive ending, which is meant to lead into another book. It’s also short, barely 155 pages, making me wonder if A9 hadn’t planned this book and the sequel she recently published as one work.
The novel hits a crescendo toward the end. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it involves a show-down with the LA police, the wheelchair avenger, and assassins in the pay of Donna Malalinda. Sid the monkey plays a big role. I can’t recall any other book outside of Edgar Rice Burroughs who made killer monkeys part of the plot. If you’re in the mood for a break-neck paced noir fiction, check this one out.