The Cyclist by Anthony Neil Smith

The Cyclist by Anthony Neil SmithThere is a thin line between crime and horror, Stephen King’s Misery and Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series spring to mind. You can now add Anthony Neil Smith’s The Cyclist to this list. Smith’s latest book tells the story of Judd, a washed-out Navy SEAL in the US, who falls in love with Cat, a co-worker who lives in Scotland. Judd’s dismissal from the Navy was, shall we say, due to a colossal fuckup – in a panic, he fired live ammunition at his SEAL instructor and hit him several times. Dealing with this pain of being unceremoniously discharged, Judd returns home to Minnesota where he tries to bury his problems by cycling hundreds of miles at a time.

Cat asks Judd to visit and he abandons everything in Minnesota meet up with Cat for a cycling vacation of Scotland. It’s his final act of desperation as what better way to deal with his problems than to run away half-way around the world.

This is the second book I’ve read of Anthony Neil Smith and his third book published since August 2017. Smith may be more prolific than fellow crime writer Eric Beetner, but probably not. Like Castle Danger: Woman on Ice, Smith’s The Cyclist takes a strong turn half-way through as Judd goes from a shell of a man grasping for some sort of meaningful existence to a man desperately fighting for his life and others.

As I wrote at the beginning, Smith’s The Cyclist blurs the line between crime and horror. Smith had me turning my head away from the pages and wincing in pain at the terror. In a recent interview with author Tom Leins at Dirty Books, Leins asked, “Given the right break, The Cyclist feels like it could resonate with a mainstream audience – was that intentional?”. Smith replied:

Absolutely. I’ve written thirteen previous novels, all of which have attracted a “cult” audience, I’d say, and some of the early ones were really rough “gonzo noir.” And I love those books! However, I’ve always dreamed of a larger audience enjoying my books, the same way I enjoy a lot of mainstream thrillers and crime novels. So that’s a goal of mine: to learn how to write a book that can reach out and grab a very large swath of thriller readers. THE CYCLIST is another step on that journey. I mean, some writers may scoff at James Patterson or John Grisham, but they must know *something* I haven’t figured out yet in order to have so many people love to read them.

Not only do I agree with Leins that The Cyclist could, even should, connect with that mainstream audience, it can keep those fans of Smith’s earlier work happy as well. Currently selling for $2.99, The Cyclist is a steal compared to the $14.99 for Baldacci or Patterson’s latest thrillers. Pick it up, read it and then recommend Smith’s The Cyclist to your friends that only read Stephen King, Lee Child and the rest.

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Castle Danger: Woman on Ice by Anthony Neil Smith

castle-danger-woman-on-ice-by-anthony-neil-smithIn the beginning of Anthony Neil Smith’s Castle Danger: Woman on Ice there are incidents that tell you that this book might just be a little off, a little off in a good way. Could it be a cop shooting his partner and that cop in custody dressed as a woman? Or maybe it is the narrator Hermann Jahnke’s obsession with hard-core porn? There are hints everywhere that Castle Danger: Woman on Ice is different than any other book you’ve read this year.

Though Castle Danger: Woman on Ice falls easily into the mystery genre, specifically the police procedural, it is Anthony Neil Smith’s examination of Jahnke’s life that moves the book forward. Sure there is Jahnke’s investigation of a woman’s death, her frozen corpse pulled out of and then reclaimed by a Minnesota lake, but it is Jahnke we want to learn about. As we start to get to know Jahnke, he is on the fringes of the police force, not wanted back and not wanting to go back. Bad goes to worse as Jahnke burns off his junk and then his girlfriend leaves him. Jahnke tells us his story as best as he can, trying to pick out those meaningful vignettes of his life that shaped him into the man he is today. Often times he doesn’t even understand what is happening to him, he just knows that that part of his story is important.

As each day goes by in the investigation, Jahnke makes difficult decisions about himself and what direction he is headed. Sometimes Jahnke denies the obviousness of who he is and at other times he simply enjoys the ride he finds himself on. It’s complicated.

There was a woman, tall and thick, with her hair dyed black. Mid-fifties, I would guess. Barelegged in a dress riding up as she struck a pose like a cowboy about to lasso a calf. I was the calf. She was handsome. But she was a woman. You could just tell. Everything about her. I fought through the crowd to her. She was taller than me, and she wrapped her arms around my neck, sashayed with me, took it down low.

She was a woman.

A manly woman, but a woman.

These days, I think “a woman is a woman, trans or not,” but at the time I was only thinking about this woman, acting like she was horny as all fuck, grinding on me, mascara running, hands on my ass. Thinking “this is normal. This is good. I’m dancing with a woman. Not a man. This is okay.”

When she was close enough to my ear, she shouted, “You okay with this? You uncomfortable?” Slurred to hell.

I should’ve been. I wasn’t. I shook my head. She smelled good, whatever her soap and sweat mix was, it was easy on the nose, and she reminded me of high school teachers I had admired — and jerked off to — and women who worked at the library and women who worked at the place where I bought my car insurance.

Anthony Neil Smith’s Castle Danger: Woman on Ice is a character study of a man examining who he is, who he was, and who he is going to be. It is Jahnke’s exploration of his sexuality that motivates the reader to press on. The mystery is of no matter, it is Jahnke we care about and we continue on reading to see how he makes it to the other side.

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