Bait by J. Kent Messum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a free copy of this book for review from the author.
Can you imagine waking up on an island with a bunch of good-for-nothing junkies who almost immediately start going into withdrawal and puking all over the place? And your only way out is by swimming through waters infested with hungry sharks?
Still, it sounds more appealing than being on a season of Survivor.
So these smack-hounds wake up on a beach in the Florida Keys with no idea how they got there. There’s a small amount of food and water left there with a note that they can get more by swimming to the next island, and the bigger prize is a whole bunch of heroin if they can make it through the sharks. Will they try to swim for it or not?
Uh, I did mention that they are junkies and there’s heroin on that next island, right?
There are some stories idea that just sound so amazingly outrageous that you immediately want to check them out. Sharks vs. Junkies is one of those. Messum walks a fine line here of setting up an idea that could have been a movie on SyFy channel, adding enough depth of character and tragedy so that it doesn’t seem like a total cartoon, and then still delivering enough scenes of sharks devouring junkies that it satisfies the itch you got when you heard the idea. (You sick bastards!)
I’m not sure if this could have been sustained in a longer novel, but at 288 pages it hits the sweet spot of being tight enough to work without feeling rushed. Intercutting flashbacks of each character gives us a snapshot of their lives as addicts, and Messum makes them sympathetic by highlighting wasted potential but he doesn’t glamorize or excuse them.
I was a little less sold on the parts that shift to the men behind the whole Turn-Junkies-Into-Fish-Food scheme. There’s decent motivation provided, but I think the book may have worked a tad better if we knew nothing about them or why they were doing it until the very end where the final chapter provided an excellent opportunity for a bit of exposition to explain motives. Keeping them more mysterious might have tightened up the book even further and added more intrigue.
Still, it’s an intriguing and well written story that delivers on the concept it’s selling. It also reinforced my belief that nothing good happens in the ocean.
Finally, I owe J. Kent Messum some thanks. He had approached me about reviewing his newer book, and I turned him down because I’m just a dick like that. Then Dan told me about this book with sharks chewing on heroin addicts, and I’m only human so I wanted in on that action. I didn’t realize that this was by a writer I’d previously refused to review, but once we got that got sorted JKM was very gracious and cool enough to send me this along with his new one Husk which I’ll read and review soon.
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