By Brad Smith
The Charlotte Observer:
Brad Smith could give clinics on how to write a mystery novel.
Booklist (starred review):
The gelding had character and a heart as big as a washtub. He was never destined to be anything more than a ten-thousand-dollar claimer, but that didn't change the fact that he had heart. It was something you couldn't take from him." Ex-con Ray Dokes, just out of prison and trying to live a "half-ass normal life," is talking about a racehorse with a broken leg, but he could just as well be describing himself, or for that matter, this rollicking romp of a novel--except that the book, unlike the horse, has legs enough to run with the big boys. Ray gives half-ass normality his best shot, taking a job roofing houses in rural Ontario, but soon he's concocting a scheme to con local thug Sonny Stanton--the man who raped Ray's sister--out of some of the money Stanton has swindled in various crooked land deals. The scam, involving swapping horses before a big race, proves fascinating on its own, but it's the cast of delightfully eccentric, if not downright loopy, characters who drive the story. Surrounding Ray are Pete Culpepper, a Texas horseman and owner of the gelding with the broken leg; Chrissie, Pete's foul-mouthed jockey, who, beneath the bravado, has a fair-sized washtub heart of her own; and Etta, Ray's former lover, whose home is about to fall prey to Stanton's land gab. On the other side of the fence, along with Stanton, are a couple of bumbling hired hands who seem to have wandered in from an Elmore Leonard novel. (Dean, one of the bumblers, an ersatz cowboy with illusions of grandeur, earns the epithet "all hat and no cattle.") Canadian author Smith has marvelous control of his material, effortlessly mixing laugh-out-loud comedy with streaks of country noir that call to mind Daniel Woodrell. This is Smith's first novel to be published in the U.S., and it's the best American crime-fiction debut since C. W. Box's OPEN SEASON.
Smith (One-Eyed Jacks) serves up a fast-paced, wickedly funny tale of revenge in his second novel (and U.S. debut), set in a close-knit farming community in Ontario. Ray Dokes, nearing 40, has just spent several years in prison for assaulting Sonny Stanton, the thuggish young heir to a billion dollar fortune who raped Dokes's sister. Dokes returns to his hometown and manages to steer clear of Stanton, who has several underhanded financial schemes going, the nastiest being an attempt to buy up local farms, then use the land to develop a race track as a showcase for the thoroughbreds of Stanton Stables. Dokes quietly settles into his new life as a roofer and helps his friend Pete Culpepper to breed horses in his spare time. Romance returns to Dokes's life when Culpepper hires a sexy young jockey named Chrissie to race his low-rent thoroughbreds, but even as their liaison plays out, it's clear that Dokes pines for a local woman called Etta, whose farm is one of Stanton's prime targets. As Stanton's development plan gets underway, the townsfolk increasingly turn against him and, in spite of his admirable attempts to turn the other cheek, Dokes once again finds himself at the center of a showdown with the spoiled scion. Smith's neatly executed climax takes place at a horse race involving Sonny's steeds and a ringer Dokes introduces to get back at his arch rival. The novel offers a well drawn ensemble cast and wry, memorable observations. Smith is a topnotch storyteller, and though some of the plot points are familiar and the ending too tidy, readers will be charmed.
If booksellers tap horsey types as well as general fiction readers, Smith's novel
could make a strong showing. A striking cowboy styled jacket should help sales,
Richard Russo, author of EMPIRE FALLS:
It's been awhile since I've read a novel so packed with vivid, energetic, pulsating characters. Their creator Brad Smithis a writer with lots of skill, lots of heart, lots of brains, and, yes, lots of hat.
ALL HAT is an incendiary example of pedal-to-the-floor country noir. Brad Smith has got the goodshe's funny, poignant, evocative, and he tells a blistering tale. A writer to watch, a comet on the horizon.
Ray Robertson, author of MOODY FOOD:
Hammett meets Hank Williams meets James Lee BurkeALL HAT is all novel. Lean
and mean, dark and smart, Brad Smith's latest is a long, cool drink of first-rate