2018 has been a phenomenal year for reading, with a number of titles already in the running for my best of the year list, but in terms of sheer entertainment value alone Scapegoat will be a hard one to beat.
Adam Howe and James Newman have written one hell of a crackling read here with a story that is all about the escalation of threats. Mike Rawson, Lonnie Deveraux, and Pork Chop are travelling by RV to attend WrestleMania III, accompanied by Cindi the Bar Girl, who just so happens to be way more than she appears. After taking a drug and booze-fueled detour, the gang find themselves lost in the woods, a situation Lonnie worsens even further when he accidentally runs over a woman fleeing for her life. Turns out, the woman’s own situation is damn severe even before she found herself on the wrong side of a speeding RV – she has been beaten and cut up from head to toe, the seven deadly sins engraved on her skin. Stopping to help her puts the guys right into the crosshairs of the men chasing her – a band of redneck cultists hell-bent on reclaiming their sacrificial scapegoat.
Scapegoat is just all kinds of wild, and if you’ve read Howe’s two Reggie Levine novels previously you already know redneck backwoods shenanigans is this dude’s bread and butter. This is an odd thing, indeed, as Howe is a Brit, but thanks to American globalism and the spread of Hollywood commercialism in particular, it’s pretty clear he grew up on a steady of diet of Burt Reynolds flicks like Smokey and the Bandit and Deliverance. Howe is apparently obsessed with crafting the ultimate cross-over between these films, at least when he’s not obsessing over Nic Cage movies and skunk apes. But, you know what? I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. Howe gets it and he knows how to craft a damn fine story that chugs along with the speed and grace of the Bandit’s own Trans Am.
To sweeten the pot even further, though, is fellow Howe fan James Newman, author of Odd Man Out, who also wrote an introduction to Howe’s Tijuana Donkey Showdown and shares co-writing credit here. Newman, hailing from the American south, clearly knows his way around the backwoods, too. Both authors inject in Scapegoat a clear affinity for wrestling, heavy metal, and Lost In The Woods And Chased By Maniacs horror. In terms of collaboration, it’s pretty clear these two guys are writing with a singular purpose and a shared hive mind. And once they get going, there’s no slowing them down.
Scapegoat is a quick, down and dirty kind of read, pared to the bone and trimmed of all the fat. While plenty of the book is a run-and-gun affair, we still get some great character beats and moments of introspection and reminiscing that illustrate the relationship between Mike, Lonnie, and Pork Chop. There’s also plenty of carnage, threatening portents of occultism, explosions galore, moments of wonderfully shocking violence, and an incredible climax that spins this story into some wonderfully dark realms. Now look, I would have been more than content to have Howe and Newman tell me a story of redneck cultists chasing after our lost losers, but the few extra miles they travel in upping the ante here is absolutely perfect. The ending in particular is incredibly gutsy and I had to take a few moments to simply appreciate the verve of these authors.
Scapegoat is a mile-a-minute blast, the type of book that’s pure joy fuel. You might even be compelled to hop into an RV and storm into the Tennessee woods looking for trouble. Just remember, those seven deadly sins serve as a warning for a reason…
[Note: I received an advance reading copy of this title from the authors to provide a publication blurb. I have chosen to review Scapegoat here as well because I just flat-out loved this damn thing.]
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