My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet is a collection of three novellas from author Adam Howe, and it's one of the strongest I've read in terms of quality, tone, and uniqueness. Each of the three stories are different from one another and beautifully showcase the dynamic range Howe possesses as an author.
DAMN DIRTY APES (4 stars) kicks off this collection in rollicking fashion. Picture Roadhouse by way of one of those trashier cryptid-hunting SyFy shows, with the spirit of a dozen 80s flicks, and you'll be off to a good start. Reggie Levine is a washed-up boxer turned bouncer at The Henhouse, a honkytonk strip bar, who gets dragged into the search for a missing local, who was possibly abducted by the mythological skunk ape while filming a gonzo porn in the woods. Right about now, you should have a pretty good idea if this book is for you or not. For me, this is some damn fine absurdist pulp.
Adam Howe is clearly a talent - he did win Stephen King's On Writing contest, which goes a long way in cementing him as an author to watch in my book, and Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet is serving only to double-down on that estimation - and he writes comedy and action with (deceptively) equal ease. This story had me laughing rather frequently, and Howe can turn one hell of a phrase. He's also pretty damn good in delivering a loaded, pyrotechnic payoff. The finale gets mighty damn crazy, and is psychotic in all the best ways. This is seriously entertaining stuff!
DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET (5 stars) takes a radical, bloody left turn from DAMN DIRTY APES and proves that Howe has a hell of a range. Where the previous story was light and funny, with small bits of gross-out descriptions, DIE DOG is bleak, dark, and unrelenting even before it swerves into some hardcore grotesqueness. And hot damn, did I ever love it.
Hingle, a psychotic murderer known as the Sorority Slayer, has escaped from a mental institution and abducted a waitress, Tilly, from a roadside dinner. Faster than you can say "road trip!" the you-know-what hits the fan, and the two run afoul of some good old Southern boys of the Deliverance variety.
Howe takes an already promising and dark premise and plunges it into some Stygian depths of true depravity. This shit is wicked, and the author revels in crafting some real squirm-worthy, hard-core horror scenarios. I enjoyed the every-man perspective given via Tilly, who goes from a sort-of waif to a bad-ass Final Girl after enduring so much and being in so far over her head. It was a pretty radical turn, and quite well executed.
I'm giving this one the full 5 stars for being ballsy, gruesome, and depraved, alongside some bloody, nasty descriptions and details. I dug it.
GATOR BAIT (4.5 stars) is sweet piece of swampland noir revolving around a piano player, on the run after running afoul of his lady's husband and losing two fingers in the process, taking refuge in Louisiana. At the Grinnin' Gator honkytonk strip-club, he finds employment as the bar's newest pianist, working for a rumrunner name Crocker, while shacking up with Crocker's wife, Grace. If this sounds like trouble, you would be correct.
GATOR BAIT brings with it a cool noir sensibility, along with a giant, man-eating alligator that is the main staple at Crocker's bar. Howe goes for the slow-burn in this one, letting us get inside Smitty's head as he gets to know his new patrons and adjust to life on the bayou, before letting everything go to hell. As the prior two stories demonstrated, Howe knows how to construct and deliver a beautiful action sequence ripe with chaotic, inevitable denouements, and GATOR BAIT is no different.
Each of the stories in Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet are worth the price of admission alone, but taken as a whole this collection is nearly perfect. Howe is clearly a well-versed, studied writer of multiple genres, and his voice is, at turns, authoritative and downright hilarious. If I have any complaint at all, it's that I didn't read this book sooner, but I can at least be thankful in knowing his next book, Tijuana Donkey Showdown, is due out in just a few days.
[Note: I received a copy of this title from the author.]
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