Bite Harder by Anonymous 9 (Blasted Heath, 2014)
If it is the mark of a good writer that you don’t want their book to end, then Bite Harder qualifies. Anonymous 9 (AKA Elaine Ash) has knocked it out of the park with the follow-up to Hard Bite. It is one of the few times I’ve enjoyed the second book by an author over the first. Perhaps these books were supposed to be one novel, but each one can be read by themselves. There are some of the same characters in each book, but the situations are not the same. However, I would recommend reading Hard Bite before you read Bite Harder just to get the feel for the characters.
Bite Harder takes up a few weeks after the events described in Hard Bite. Dean Drayhart, the hit-and-run avenger who rides around in a motorized wheelchair, is back again, but this time he’s incarcerated while the legal system tries to figure out what to do with him. The Malalinda drug family has taken a punch to the gut from Dean’s actions, but they are still a force to be reckoned with. And Cinda, Dean’s sex worker associate, is on the run. As is Sid,his helper monkey turned assassin. Orella Malalinda, the matriarch of the crime family is biding her time to exact revenge on the man and monkey who brought about the the tragedy in the first novel. And she has the cash and resources to do it.
Bite Harder fleshes out the secondary characters of Cinda and Sid the monkey. As in the previous novel, much of the action is told from Dean’s point-of-view. It shifts to third person when the action movies away from Dean, which keeps the story moving at a rapid pace. Detective Doug Coltson, who played such an important role in the first book, is moved into the back ground. But a whole series of other characters are introduced. Such as the prison nurse who drives a Mercedes and an elderly pot farmer in Northern California. Most of the action takes place around Los Angeles, A9’s stomping ground.
Much of the power of the book is A9’s ability to create bizarre landscapes:
“…Farther north the smooth boulevard grows pockmarked. Shiny storefronts give way to thrift shops and tired motor court hotels. North Lankershim is where penniless young actors learn pole dancing can pay the rent. North Lankershim is where dreams curl up and die….”
“Dozens of candles flicker on a long table covered with fine white cloth— newly added to Orella’s ranch bedroom. The centerpiece is a painted plaster bust of Jésus Malverde, patron saint of drug runners. Black hair, a black moustache. Dark eyes flat and sightless. The statue is surrounded by heaps of hundred and thousand dollar bills fanned out for display. Fresh flowers crowd the table alongside lush marijuana plants, heaping bowls of coke and meth. An endless loop of Mexican corrida music plays in the background, every song paying tribute to Malverde and the protection he offers the drug trade.”
But my favorite is this exchange between Detective Colston and a rich client of Cinda’s:
“‘Who is Cinda, sir?”
Pebley narrows his eyes. Wily oldster, he’s smart enough to know Doug knows that he knows. Lying will get Pebley nowhere and he has too much reputation to lose by getting nailed for obstructing justice. “She’s a sex worker, if you must know.”
“That’s your connection to her, sex work?”
“Absolutely not. She’s a friend. The sex is a benefit and the money exchanged is a gift.”
“And your middle name is Tinkerbell?”
Pebley doesn’t shift a wrinkle. He looks like weathered granite.
“Because that’s quite a sprinkle of fairy dust you put on your association.”‘
Cinda gets more pages in this novel than the last one. Which isn’t too surprising as she’s separated from Dean for most of the story. We learn a little bit about her past, her passion for fast cars, etc. There’s a heart-breaking scene where she attempts to continue on with her chosen profession in a cheap motel. She has a lot of strength in her character and I hope A9 does more with Cinda in future adventures.
Sid the monkey. What can you say about Sid other than he steals the attention? Much of the book is devoted to Sid and how he perceives the world around him. Sid is no ordinary primate: he’s been to monkey helper school and knows a lot about the humans around him. I was always a big Planet of the Apes fan, so intelligent monkeys should hold some attraction. But Sid is no Cesar. He’s a small Capuchin monkey. A9 really gives you a good feel for how he interacts with his world.
As in the previous novel, all the main players meet at the same point. I can’t go into more of the plot without spoiling it. However, I will say that if you stick with the novel, there is a pay-off at the end. And the hint of another “Bite” novel. I can’t even begin to imagine how this would play on the big screen.
If you liked Hard Bite, you will love the sequel, Bite Harder. It still astounds me a writer so polished and skilled has stayed off my radar. Gawd Bless the Internet and digital publishing for making such books available to me. A9 has taken a “must read” status next to K W Jeter. I just hope she’ll have the next “Bite” novel out in a reasonable amount of time.