Book Review : Anthony Neil Smith - Holy Death (2016)
Fuck you, Death, you motherfucker. Fuck you. It gave him another squeeze.
Everybody likes an outlaw. Even when you're watching a cop show on television, everyone's favorite character will turn out to be the Dirty Harry stereotype who doesn't play by the rules. That's because we, as a society, trust individual judgment and morals better than a system designed for "the common good." I'm guilty of that thinking just like everybody else and Anthony Neil Smith's cop-turned-biker-turned-prisoner-turned-wanted-man has become one of my go-to guys for outlaw action since I've discovered him. In the latest volume of his adventures Holy Death, Billy becomes the literary equivalent of a Johnny Cash song played by a death metal band.
Surprise! Billy survived the ungodly events of The Baddest Ass and successfully broke out of his maximum security penitentiary in the middle of a fucking snowstorm. He is now working on the road, keeping low profile and driving a truck full of supplements and anabolic steroids. Billy was also getting high on his own supply, trying to get back in fighting shape, until his heart started giving up on him. Now a sick and wanted man, Billy drives his truck to where it all started for him (Gulf Coast), hoping to find some closure and maybe a little help with his condition. Instead he is welcomed by an old acquaintance who's out for his blood.
The Baddest Ass is possibly the most brutal thing I've ever read in my life and also one of the most enjoyable, so Holy Death had high expectations to meet. Fortunately it doesn't even try to match the brutality of its predecessor and takes a more of a Shakespearean angle. Our deep-fried MacBeth Billy comes back to town looking for peace, only to be hounded by the ghosts he created an eternity ago. Don't get me wrong, Holy Death is plenty brutal and "crosses the line" with the gracefulness and gusto only Anthony Neil Smith is capable of, but it's a novel focusing on Billy trying out outrun the grim reaper and not openly challenging him like in The Baddest Ass.
"He killed a teenager first thing in the morning, injured another badly. They didn't know who they were fucking with. He was sleeping in a truck full of vitamins, protein shake mixes, and a shit-ton of anabolic steroids, so there's that. Then he stole a car, stole some motorcycles, crashed the motorcycles, but he was just getting started."
Nobody writes chaos better than Anthony Neil Smith. Actions scenes usually are a major pain to read in novels because they involve a protagonist X, an unending series of unilateral action that leads to protagonist X kicking ass and protagonist X gloating in his own badassery. Smith doesn't work like that. His action scenes are always enjoyable because there's always something going wrong in them. The protagonist gets seriously hurt, humiliated, a character dies before there's even a confrontation, there's always something completely unexpected to keep you on your toes. Reading Anthony Neil Smith's action scenes is like having a slow-mo cam that allows you to pick up on all the small details.
Holy Death also features a gang banger hopelessly in love with a diner waitress, Santa Muerte practitioners (hence the title of the novel), our favorite antagonist Franklin Rome (who I always pictured as Lance Reddick for some reason), feces, lots of carjacking aciton and many other idiosyncratic details that make Anthony Neil Smith's novel so unique and entertaining. Smith writes a very precise brand of moral-free hardboiled novels, but he has mastered it. I try not to use this term lightly, but Anthony Neil Smith is a master at what he does and Holy Death is a very polished and sophisticated example of his unique set of writing skills. It's probably better if you read the first three novels before tackling this one, but you would only do yourself a favor.