It’s often commented that the classic American Noir is basically a Western retold: That the lone Gumshoe making right in a corrupt and lawless world is Shane, strolling into town and restoring fairness.
It’s also been noted that crime fiction, in it’s purest, is a reworking (and occasional corruption) of the oldest chivalric stories: a pure damsel is rescued by an even purer Knigh, The object being less relevant, in the mythology, than the journey towards transcendence via suffering and purity.
It’s also been said that shit happens, and in Slow Bear, Anthony Neil Smith manages to put these three concepts- American Noir, Chivalry, Shit Happening – into a blender, add the unplumbable sadness that comes only from being a person whose entire culture is predicated in unrecoverable loss, and – at the flick of a switch – make something that’s gritty, funny, oddly horny and sad.
He’s made, to be honest, a genuinely valuable addition to the American Canon.
Micah ‘Slow Bear’ Cross used to be a reservation cop. He wasn’t good at it but he was good at being bad at it. The one time he tried to be a good cop, he got his whole left arm shot off.
Now he sits around the casino all day flirting with Kylie, the Lady Barmaid, and giving people advice on their problems in exchange for some chips. Then in one bad day he’s beaten up, banished, and given an assignment: frame Santana The Exile.
But Santana is into some really bad things. And if Slow Bear thought life had been rough so far, it’s about to get a whole lot worse: for him, for Kylie, and for anybody who stands in the way of a one-armed man on a mission…
Saying any more than the blurb above gives away more of this book than it would be fair to. Slow Bear – a hot, sweaty, self-pitying mess – is basically a one-armed, Native American Quixote. The descriptions of the Dakota oil fields – during, and after the boom – of the corruption that money attracts and sustains, and of the men – dirty, determined, desperate and amoral – is impressionistic, and all the more powerful for it.
This is a novella that does two things any smart novella should do, and one most don’t risk
1/ I could. Not. Put. This. Book. Down. Seriously: It’s a genuine fucking page turner. You’ll start at 9pm thinking you’ll read a few pages before bed, and find yourself at 11pm trying to figure out how late you can finish the book and still get to work (and Imma guarantee nobody in their first century’s ever said that about Cervantes).
It shoots you, breathlessly, into the action, and keeps you there page after motherfucking page.
2/ And then it ends. Smartly. As any novella worth it’s salt should do. It shows you a world you wouldn’t have seen before, and it says “Well, there it is.” And then it closes.
But it does more than that. It shows you a man who you really REALLY wanna fucking root for. I want more Micah. He sparkles. He’s a modern reference to his praenomen who prophesied destruction, and who abhorred dishonesty and idolatry. And I want to watch him bring a righteous fury on those who have wronged him and the world.
Slow Bear – like the best of Gumshoes, Biblical prophets and Chivalric knights – gets the basic shit beaten out of him on numerous instances in this book. The descriptions of lives lived in cars parked in the environs of Walmarts or Targets all over the US are closer to reportage than fiction. The whole: It’s fury at how things are, and it’s hopelessness at how we fix things, along with Slow Bear’s humanity, hope, pure hulk and irrepressible determination to make what’s broken right – make this the first novella in an age that I genuinely wished was a novel.