Thursday Reviews: City Primeval by Elmore Leonard; The Baddest Ass by Anthony Neil Smith

City Primeval

Elmore Leonard

Clement Mansell kills a judge nobody likes. And by nobody, I mean the State Supreme Court of Michigan has him removed from the bench. In a fit of road rage, Mansell kills the judge and his girlfriend of the evening. Does he feel remorse? Why would he? He’s killed nine people at this point, and he’s proud of it. When questioned by homicide lieutenant Raymond Cruz, he even brags about it. What can the police do? They have to prove it, and he’s not signing his acknowledgment of his Miranda rights.

Then he challenges Cruz to a duel, just like Gregory Peck in High Noon. Cruz, who exists in a sort of Rust Belt version of the 87th Precinct, finds himself drawn to the Peck comparison. He wants to take down Mansell, even sets up Mansell to fall, and yet…

While Cruz is a modern cop fixated on the idea of a Western law man, Mansell is very much the irredeemable villain from a Western, even relishing the role. He’s a sociopath, all greed and no empathy. And like so many sociopaths, he is always shocked when something doesn’t go his way.

It’s not surprising this story almost parallels High Noon. Leonard began his career writing Westerns, including The Law at El Randado.

The Baddest Ass

Anthony Neil Smith

Billy Lafitte returns, doing time in a North Dakota federal pen. There’s a price on Lafitte’s head. A guard named Garner knows that a lot of cops, a lot of bikers, and a lot of prisoners want him dead. A prisoner named Ri’Chess (pronounced “Righteous”) wants to make it happen, seeing a big payday out of it. And a cop named Colleen is gunning for him, blaming him for the death of her fiancee. Colleen is willing to do anything, even giving herself to Ri’Chess during a conjugal visit to get the deed done. However, when a riot is staged to cover Lafitte’s death, it goes entirely wrong in three ways. First, Lafitte’s former mother-in-law brings his son Ham to see him. Second, Ri’Chess uses the riot for his own agenda, changing the time table to suit himself and his posse. And the third?

The forget that people tend to die around Billy Lafitte, particularly when he’s cornered.

Lafitte is definitely dirty. He even admits it. Yet it seems always he’s blamed for the havoc others cause. Near the end, Colleen realizes that Lafitte’s perennial nemesis, Rome (who does not appear, but is a presence nonetheless) is probably the cause of most of the chaos around Lafitte.

Smith has amped up the action. The prison setting lends itself to Lafitte’s now almost Schwarzenegger-like bad-assery. What sells it is that Lafitte has less and less to lose with each successive installment while his rivals continue to be too arrogant for their own good. There are some uncomfortable moments in this one. What Ri’Chess’s sidekick, Jean Robert, does to prisoners had me squirming in my seat. The levels of Hell Smith puts Lafitte through makes him the ultimate antihero.

Guest Post: Anthony Neil Smith – One Slick Bastard

I’m off to Conference Room M for an IT meeting today. Conference Room M is Maloney’s, a west side bar, where I plan to hide from people bugging me about where their Start button is. In the meantime, Neil Smith talks smack about his bad-ass new book, The Baddest Ass.

BaddestAss600So Jim writes me and is all like, “Hey! We should trade blog posts because I’ve got a slick bastard of a new novel out, and you’ve got a slick bastard of a new novel out, so YEAHAAAARGH AND HAPPINESS!” And I was all like, “Me also YEAHAAAARGH AND HAPPINESS! Let’s do it because YEAH, GODDAMN IT!”

And then I realized: I had nothing to write about.

I mean, I wrote The Baddest Ass last year, and since then I’ve written a whole other new slick bastard of a novel, and now I’m working on another whole other new slick bastard of a novel. So you should all feel lucky I even remember the title.

In times of need, I turn to my readers. And they ask for free stuff. And I tell them I won’t write any more books unless they pay up. And also, ask me shit so I can write this blog post for Jim. And they come through for me almost every time. I love you slick bastards.


Livius Nedin (of BOOKED podcast fame) asks: “There seems to be less Lafitte in The Baddest Ass than in previous books. Was this a conscious decision?”

Well…not at first. I always end up approaching the Lafitte books as a “point of view” challenge. Who has the POV, and how does that person see Lafitte? In the first one, he tells his own story. In the second, we see the POV of several characters, including Lafitte. In this one it started out as a possible second person book inside the head of Bryce West, but then the story changed. So I decided that this book was about how others see Lafitte, but without giving the reader a look into Lafitte’s head. He’s walled off. So that means he can only be on the scene when the POV characters are around him. And next time (let’s just admit it—I want to write more Lafitte), I might limit that access even more.

And another thing: why the fuck haven’t you slick bastards invited me back to Booked podcast for this one yet? What did I ever do to you, not counting the time I punched your slick bastard uncle in his drunk mouth for saying how much he loved that shitty new Van Halen album?

Dave White (who writes things) asks: “Have you ever considered a YM prequel?”

Ya know, I tried to write a couple of prequel short stories with Lafitte and his partner Asimov, and I even posted a bit of one on the blog, but I just couldn’t finish. Just wasn’t interested enough. I promised one of them to those slick bastards at Crime Factory and then just crashed and burned. So maybe one day, but the idea of a direct prequel just doesn’t interest me so much. I’m never a big fan of those in books or movies. Something with a kinda-sorta connection, though? I like those, and I’ve had an idea in the back of my mind for a big novel featuring a character from Hogdoggin’. We’ll see.

Dan Vierck (who also writes things and is a new father) asks: “What’s the closest BL has been to getting his cuss together? To being William Lafitte? Is that not in the cards for him? Does he not want that?”

First, I have no idea what “getting his cuss together” means, so that means you’ve grown smarter than me, and I hate you, you slick bastard.

I thought about having someone call him “William” in the prison book, but then forgot and never bothered.

In Yellow Medicine’s first draft, there was a redemptive moment. There was a possibility of him continuing to be a cop. But as I read back through, things changed. The story didn’t feel like it wanted to go that way after all. So my agent and I went through a bunch of different endings, struggling to find what made sense for all that came before. Instead of redemption, it was a choice. An open-ended choice. It was Kurtz about to peer into “the horror”, or not. Or something. That’s a real book, right?

R.J. Stroud (Twitter superfan) asks: “Were you inspired/influenced by a favorite novel or character when you created Lafitte?”

Yeah, it was The Shield and Vic Mackey. No matter what he did wrong, you still (kind of) rooted for the guy. Right up until the penultimate episode when he got immunity and laid out EVERY BAD THING HE’D EVER DONE over those past seven seasons. Once you heard that, you were like, “Oh no. I was rooting for all that?” So why did we? One reason was because he made the excuse of it being for his family. He had two kids, one autistic. He had already thrown away his marriage, and now he claimed that he was doing all the “side work” to help secure his family’s future.

With Lafitte, I wanted to take away the safety net of the family. I wanted him to have already lost that stuff and have a chance to start over. So of course, he’s just baaaaaad. But if he’s so bad, why is he so compelling, especially in his own words? I jumped into the deep end from there.

Also, I had just moved to Minnesota, was in a rotten mood (around here, “Minnesota Nice” is an elaborate prank), and started filtering that into a character who had the balls to do something about his own rotten mood.

Of course, since then, I’ve fallen in love with the state (thanks to my wife, especially), even though there are still some mean cusses down here in Marshall. Chilly bastards, I tell ya.

R.J. Stroud (again) asks: “If you could choose only one song to be in a film adaptation of a Lafitte novel, what would it be?”

I hear awesome songs all the time that I wish I could hear while watching a Lafitte flick. And I usually put together a whole lot of stuff to listen to while writing a Lafitte book. But one that seems perfect would be “Go It Alone” by Jason Isbell right as Yellow Medicine fades and the closing credits start. Oh yeah.

Dana Yost (poet, editor, and intrepid journalist):  Can you name five personal traits/habits shared by you and Billy (three seemed too easy, ten too many, so five)?

Okay. First, we both like cheap red wine. Second, we both lived in a weird house in Yellow Medicine County with a creepy vibe. Third, we both carry a lot of attitude, even if it’s mostly for show. Fourth, we get annoyed with slick bastards like you asking personal questions. And fifth, we both hated Minnesota at first. I have now come to love the living hell out of this slick bastard state, whereas Billy, ya know, will never love any place like he loved Mississippi.

R. J. Stroud (third times the charm) asks: “Other than Sam Rockwell, who should play Lafitte on the big screen?”

Really? Are you serious? Is there anyone other than Sam Rockwell who is right for Billy Lafitte?

Well, you slick bastard, I’ve got one other unconventional choice: Johnny Knoxville.

But by now you’ve seen the book trailer that Paul von Stoetzel did for The Baddest Ass, and that guy who plays Lafitte for ten seconds (Shad Cooper!), he could pull it off, right?

Now, sit down and let someone else ask a question, alright?

Jay Stringer (another writer of things for a very very very very small publisher called Amazon…like the river):  What is Billy’s opinion on the price of ebooks? Does Billy think there is too much swearing in crime fiction?

Billy has no opinion on ebook pricing. If those slick bastards can get away with gouging the readers, he’s probably all for it and wishes he had found a con like that which would’ve kept him out of trouble.

As for cursing, yes. Billy thinks there is way too much cursing in crime fiction. After all, he believes only old people bother reading books, so we should all have a little respect for our elders.

ANSblastedb&wR.J. Stroud (oh, for fuck’s sake) asks:  “If you could go back in time and change one aspect of Lafitte’s personality, what would it be?”

Yeah, that’s a hard one…um, listen, maybe it’s time for someone else to have a chance. I’m just saying.

R.J. Stroud ( it’s starting to get a bit uncomfortable) asks: “If you could use another author’s fictional character in a Lafitte novel, who would it be?”

Lafitte might need to hire the Lincoln Lawyer. [Smith looks around the room] Anyone else? Seriously? [ Smith takes a long drink from water bottle. Refuses to look R. J. Stroud eye to eye]. This has been real fun and all—

R.J. Stroud (…….) interrupts: “Can you recommend another series that most closely resembles your Lafitte novels?”

Um, dude, like, Fifty Shades of stuff, I guess… [Smith glances at his watch, except he doesn’t wear a watch.] Um, security! Hey I’m running late here—

R.J. Stroud (restraining order now in effect) shouts: “Okay, okay. The only other thing I was going to ask was if Lafitte would ever be caught dead on Twitter. Ha, ha. Yeah.”

[Smith slips out the back way as the security guards head towards the questioner, Tasers drawn…]