Let’s begin with the startling front cover. It took me a while, to be honest, to notice how incredibly clever it is. Two growling bears and a set of razor-sharp claws, all in black and red.
Like all great covers that single image captures the entire book – the two sides of Micah ‘Slow Bear’ Cross – the black representing the dark underbelly of this world he traverses, the red the blood that drips down the camera lens that follows him through this book.
Still with the cover – when you have a quote on the front from someone like Linwood Barclay saying ‘Dark humour, menace, mayhem and a washed-out, one-armed hero in a noirish tale that never stops to take a breath’ you know you’re in for one hell of a ride.
Anthony Neil Smith’s prose, like Slow Bear himself, is stark and brutal. It is also gloriously flippant and joyously macabre. Here is an example:
“I don’t see the world as people. I only see it as opportunities. She was one, you were one, these women are one.”
“If you hurt her –“
He pulled his face back, stared into Slow Bear’s eyes. “You won’t do a goddamn thing. Don’t you get it? Listen, I’ll tell you what we did – restrained her, probably bruised her some, but that’ll heal. Injected her with some powerful sedatives, one of which, over time, she’ll grow to love. More than herself, more than any other person, she’ll grow to love that drug. She’ll do anything to have it. So we’ll tell her what she has to do to get it. See? Well, not us, I guess. That duty will pass along to a man who paid me for her and the others. My work is done.”
Rip his throat out with your teeth.
Tear his nuts off with your bare hand. Shove them into his gaping throat wound.
Micah ‘Slow Bear’ Cross is a complex character - kind, brutal, yet driven by honour – but most of all, amidst beneath all the violence, he is a man yearning to be loved.
And love is what he finds. Of a sort.
When an act of bravery leads to the loss of his arm, and an act of passion leads to his expulsion from the reservation he lives on - a reservation he once policed – Micah finds himself face-down in the proverbial gutter. There is a way back, but it is through Hell itself. In a world where no-one to be trusted, with any hope there might be running away like bloody tears down a broken face, either Micah finds the courage to pull himself up and face the onslaught that awaits him, or he succumbs to the dark.
But sometimes it is only when all hope is gone that courage returns – the courage and the strength of a man with nothing left to lose.
SLOW BEAR is a stunning example of what can be done within the noir genre, and is available direct from Fahrenheit Press here: https://fahrenheit-press.myshopify.com/collections/fahrenheit-13/products/slow-bear-anthony-neil-smith