As soon as I read the brief synopsis of the plot – a paraplegic injured in a car accident uses his helper monkey to get revenge on hit-and-run-drivers – I knew I had to read it. While I wasn’t too sure who “Anonymous-9” was, but this is a premise like that demands a closer look.
Mild plot spoilers follow.
Dean Drayhart was an ordinary guy until the car accident. He was paralyzed from the waist down, his daughter was killed, and his wife left him. Now he’s trapped in a motorized wheelchair, though he does have a cute little helper monkey named Sid to perform small tasks that Dean can’t. Because he doesn’t have a lot of reasons to live, Dean decides to embark on an unlikely path: he becomes a vigilante who targets hit-and-run drivers, with Sid as his weapon of choice. Dean’s plan works for a while until Sid rips out the throat of a Mexican drug lord, then all hell breaks loose. Dean and Sid rapidly become the targets of both the police and a ruthless Mexican drug cartel. The cartel grabs Dean’s nurse to force him to surrender as he, Sid, and Dean’s streetwalker girlfriend have to dodge cops and crooks alike.
This is a pretty gritty noir tale – Dean starts off in a rough situation and things only go downhill from there – while also being ridiculously funny at the same time (a paralyzed serial killer with a pet assassin-monkey). Despite the inherent darkness of the plot, Dean (and Sid) are portrayed sympathetically. We know that the things Dean does are terrible but yet, he’s suffered tremendously and he only targets those who have escaped justice. It’s a tough balancing act, but Anonymous-9 (nom de plume of Elaine Ash) does a good job with it. Obviously the premise is an engaging one, and characterization and dialogue are likewise strong. While HARD BITE starts as a serial killer/vigilante novel told from Dean’s perspective, about halfway through we also have interludes told from the perspective of the detectives trying to unravel a series of odd but related crimes and Orella Malalinda, the badass woman who heads a drug cartel and wants to find the man (and monkey) who killed her son.
HARD BITE isn’t a long novel, and because it’s fast-paced you’ll finish it before you know it. It has such an audacious and outlandish premise that there are few similar books I can point to. It’s reminiscent of some of Duane Swierczynski’s work, so if you enjoy a blend of pulpy violence with dark comedy, I think you’ll like HARD BITE. Recommended.
Review copyright © 2012 J. Andrew Byers