Reviewed by: Keith Nixon
Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words
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Smith has had over thirty stories published in literary magazines. He is also the co-editor / co-creator of the online noir journal Plots With Guns and an associate editor with the Mississippi Review. His day job is Director of the English Department at Southwest Minnesota State University.
You can learn more about the author at his website.
Ferret is a worm, a new employee in the Bakken oil field of North Dakota. From Alabama originally, Ferret moved up to start a new life, to earn money so his wife, Dee-Dee, and daughter, Violet, can move up and start a new life together. But his in-laws do not like Ferret and Dee-Dee has anxiety attacks.
There’s trouble everywhere Ferret looks, from his boss, Pancrazio, to meth labs and whore houses and roughnecks just wanting a fight. Can Ferret stay in one piece long enough to realise his dreams?
Initially I though Worm was simply a character driven novel set against the backdrop of Minnesotan oil fields. The players were all well drawn and the setting powerfully described, but that was it – great decoration, but where was the flavour.
But then Smith got the story going and I was hooked. Ferret, so desperate to get his family back together, will do anything to earn enough cash whilst living the hard life of an oilman. He starts to run drugs on behalf of Pancrazio and falls in with some dubious people – Good and Bad Russell (two people!), Gene Handy and Slow Bear, an Indian cop from the reservations.
Soon Ferret learns from Gene that Pancrazio is not what he seems (I won’t say as it is the crux on which the story is based) and the narrative flips again into one of greed and retribution. When Dee-Dee moves up Ferret thinks he has everything now, but someone has an alternative purpose in mind for Ferret…
This is a slow burn story, Smith cleverly ramps up the pace and tension. The narrative is slick and intelligent, the dialogue even more so. The characters are brilliant. A thoroughly enjoyable story that packs in twist after twist to keep the reader guessing. Again, I’d like to say more, but then that would ruin the surprises…
Plenty of swearing.
Rating: ***** Five Stars