I’ve gone on record elsewhere noting that picking up a new author to formally review is a particularly sharp double-edged sword. On the one hand, the reviewer gets exposed to a new voice which she or he may well connect to and eventually come to want to hear more from. But for every successes of this nature, there are at least three other new works that I have to try and find a polite way of criticising without coming across as an abrasive or unfair critic.
Thankfully, Adam Howe’s Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet is a sterling example of the former type of work. These three hard-boiled, crime-thrillers with at least one story tormenting its way into the horror genre are very good to straight out excellent. Howe has a distinctive voice which is utterly readable. His prose lopes gracefully off the page, before every so often whipping you across the face with a sentence or paragraph of such “punchiness” that I found myself taken aback by the raw talent on display.
Though this collection actually ends with GATOR BAIT, this was the first of the tales in this collection that I read. This one contains a quick-witted if somewhat gullible protagonist, a bad guy oozing menace, and a super hot femme fatale who is the cut of ham between their slices of less than wholegrain bread. And then of course, there’s the huge alligator lurking just beneath proceedings …
GATOR BAIT has some gory moments, but is more neo-noir than anything else. I’ve seen many reviews praising this story (and the others) as being very Lansdale-esque, but having not read enough of that author to be able to compare (an oversight I soon plan to correct), I prefer to think of it as hard-boiled noir done very, very well.
DAMN DIRTY APES, the tale which kicks off this collection, is the longest of the three, and at times, did feel it. The middle sections of this story about a disparate group of characters trying to hunt down the legendary Skunk-Ape – cousin to Bigfoot and the Yeti – do get a little repetitive. But the first-person narration from protagonist Reggie Levine kept me engaged, until the action most definitely picked up in the last third. This is the most colourful of the tales and probably the hardest to categorise as it straddles several genres including creature-feature, thriller, and even action-adventure. DAMN DIRTY APES was my least favourite of the three, but still a very good read that in no way connects to the balls-to-the-wall craziness of tale two …
DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET is a blood-thirsty and gore-drenched tale of a young woman who falls afoul of a notorious spree killer AND other serial killers when the two groups collide in the middle of nowhere. This is horror through and through, and many are likely to be offended or unable to get through some of the scenes of torture and dismemberment, but I loved every page of it. Howe himself in the excellent story notes following the three novellas indicates that this one scared even him to write, but I hope he can tap back into this (highly worrying) part of his mind to create more tales akin to this one, because he here trends the same blood-soaked ground as splatterpunk authors like David J Schow and holds his own while doing so.
But enough effusive praise from me. Stop reading this and go out and buy this book. I don’t often make strong statements like that in my reviews, but on this occasion, I’m making an exception.
Go. Buy. This. Book.
You can thank me later.
And here’s to more Howe in the very near future.
4.5 Inconveniently Placed Canines for Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet.
The preceding is based on a e-copy of the book provided by the author in exchange for an honest review – which you have now read - and can be found with other reviews like it at Horror After Dark.