CHOKE ON YOUR LIES by Anthony Neil Smith (2011, Kindle Books)
I confess: I’m an Anthony Neil Smith fan. This is only the second book I’ve read by him, but his style is starting to grow on me. Smith, who holds a PhD in literature, has written one of the most original “fair play” mysteries I’ve encountered. If higher education can produce work of such caliber, I’m all for a liberal arts background. More books such as Choke and less post-modernist drivel.
Psychosomatic had a legless, armless criminal mastermind, Choke has Octavia VanderPlatts, a three hundred pound plus women who’s made her fortune suing companies that discriminate against fat people. But she’s also loyal to her friends and employees, even if being around her makes life a hell on earth. In other words, she’s going to be a major figure in this book.
The novel is told from point-of-view of Mick Thooft ( I couldn’t make these names up) a thirtysomething poetry professor at a liberal arts college. Mick is going through a painful divorce from his wife Frances when his soon-to-be-ex throws a curve ball at him: she wants the house. A sensitive man, Mick was willing to let her go and move on, but the house issue was too much. Then she produces a deed which claims Mick signed over the house in a moment of weakness. Because Mick doesn’t remember the deed, he decides to go visit his old friend Octavia, who knows a thing or two about dirty tricks.
It doesn’t take long for Octavia to produce photographs of Frances’ extracurricular activities: with a student and various faculty members. Devastated, Mick tries to “do the right thing” and approach some of the people involved in the pictures. His first attempt takes him to the student, where a nasty fight erupts and solves nothing.
Along the way we learn how Octavia became an evil genius. Always Rubenesque, her weight ballooned out of college when she went to work as a Washington lobbyist. Since she wasn’t exactly a trophy for the idle senator to take back to the hotel, Octavia learned to be skilled at finding out what was needed to get the job done. Her abilities come into play when she’s rudely treated on a airplane flight by a flight steward. Octavia pulls in all her favors to get a huge settlement from the airline and the steward fired. She eventually hires the steward as a butler for her final revenge.
Mick’s solution to his house problem is to bring everyone involved with his wife and himself to a dinner party at Octavia’s house. It’s a plan Octavia’s totally against because she has more vindictive ideas and the evidence needed to get back Mick his house. But New Age Mick feels everything can be resolved. He takes great pains to ensure Octavia’s Amazon lawyer is present. And of course, nothing goes quite as planned, but to reveal more would be to ruin the experience of reading Choke.
This is an excellent blend of the mystery and thriller novel with a huge amount of body humor tossed in. I highly recommend this novel.
Nice comment form, Tim.
CHOKE ON YOUR LIES was my favorite novel of 2011. It’s also going on the shelf alongside the books of James Ellroy, Dennis Lehane and Philip K. Dick. It rattled my cage pretty hard. There is a strong statement about human mediocrity made in this novel. About that natural penchant we have of trying to rig the game in our favor all the time. I am rooting for this novel to sell more and more for two things. First, it’s great and second, if it gets 1500 sales, Smith will write another Octavia story. Great review, Tim.
I wanted to say more, but how the hell do you do that when it ruins the reading experience? Smith throws so many unexpected moments at the reader. You’re left wobbly at the conclusion, waiting for another body slam.