Book Review: Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet by Adam Howe

“Dark, funny, and a little out of the ordinary, you really can’t go wrong with Adam Howe’s collection.”

27503034A burned out boxer turned bouncer; an aspiring porn starlet with a heart of gold; a mythical creature that’s the mascot of a dangerous biker gang; a relentless killer squaring off against two dangerous brothers; a man on the run bound to let love break his heart again; a notorious bar-owner harboring a giant monster that’s always hungry. You’ll find all of this, and more, in Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, the latest novella collection by Adam Howe.

Adam Howe is a British writer best known as the winner of Stephen King’s On Writing contest. His first book, Black Cat Mojo, was also published by Comet Press. It’s strange that it takes a modern British writer to capture Americana at its junkyard, flea-market best, and worst, but perhaps it takes someone viewing Americans from a distance to expertly pick apart our idiosyncrasies and obsessions. Regardless of his location, Howe does pick apart the pulp fiction noir genre, and puts all the pieces back together again in a style that’s all his own.

The first novella, ‘Damn Dirty Apes’, reads like a crossover with the casts of My Name is Earl and Sons of Anarchy, broadcast on the Adult Swim network, and that’s a good thing. The DAMN DIRTY APES, one of the wildest biker gangs to ever straddle a hog, descend upon a little strip club called The Henhouse looking for trouble. Reggie Levine is the head bouncer of the strip club, his claim to fame a well-known brutal asskicking in the ring, immortalized by a faded newspaper strip framed for prosperity by the corner of the bar. The bikers get rowdy, and all it takes is a cue-stick to head, and Reggie is down for the count. From that point the story really kicks into high gear. Seems some of the locals were out in the woods filming an amateur porno video and the film’s stud was abducted by the Skunk Ape, a mythical creature so ingrained in the local folklore that its image is the mascot for the local football team as the Boogaloo Baboon. Assisted by an alleged Skunk Ape expert hell-bent on finding the elusive creature, Reggie and his motley gang head out to woods to find the creature, and their friend. No matter how close they get to finding their friend, Reggie just can’t seem to win. This is par for the course to Reggie; he’s unable to step up to the plate and get over his loss from so long ago. As predictable as Reggie’s character arc is, readers will soon forget it, as getting to the end of that arc has never been so damn fun.

‘Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet’ is the next novella in the collection, and the darkest in tone as well. Terry Lee Hingle is a modern day Michael Myers. Years ago he murdered an entire sorority, then spent the rest of his time in prison, not saying a word, just waiting for the right time to escape. When that time comes, he slips out of the prison, leaving bodies in his wake, eager to take up where he left off. As clichéd as it sounds, Howe manages to wrestle some life into this familiar narrative and make it come alive with final girl Tilly Mulvehill. Tilly should have had the night off, but instead she’s covering a coworker’s shift when she runs into Hingle. Now Hingle has a hostage and a car. He thinks he’s got it all worked out, but sometimes the unexpected comes along and throws a monkey wrench in the plan. To say anymore just spoils it, so let’s just say that if you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller with a Splatterpunk slant, this novella is just what the doctor ordered. Howe slings the blood and gore with broad strokes, and readers will definitely get blood on their hands with this tale.

The last novella in the collection is ‘Gator Bait’. Think James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice mix mastered with Lake Placid and you’re definitely headed in the right direction. Our hero is on the run after getting busted by his girl’s husband, leaving him minus a few fingers and swearing off women for life. He lands at a Louisiana bayou strip club called The Grinning Gator, owned by Horace Croker, and quickly gets a job pounding the piano for the dancers while suffering from his badly mangled hand. Then he meets Grace, who just happens to be Mrs. Croker, and Big George, Mr. Croker’s giant pet alligator. Croker has a unique way of dealing with people who rub him the wrong way that leaves as little evidence as possible. With Grace hanging around, our hero finds it very hard to keep his hands off her, knowing if they get caught, it would mean curtains for the both of them. Despite a few off-color racial slurs and the hero’s unbelievable task of tickling the ivories with a severely damaged hand, Howe still hits all the notes in this noir through fully rounded characterization and cinematic imagery. The story is a little predictable, but still dark and fun, and rounds out this collection quite nicely.

If you’re looking for noir that’s dark, funny, and a little out of the ordinary, you really can’t go wrong with Adam Howe’s collection Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet. Howe’s definitely got the chops, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.


Publisher: Comet Press
Paperback (250pp)
Release Date: 2 November 2015

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