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Bait

by J. Kent Messum

Some novels cry out to be filmed. Bait, the debut from musician-turned-wordsmith J. Kent Messum, simply roars. That’s not a knock against Messum’s stylistic approach. The B-movie premise and far-fetched plot don’t detract from one’s enjoyment of this gritty, violent, unsettling novel. Imagine the television show Lost if the survivors were all junkies, mix in the gore from the Saw films, then add a bunch of hungry sharks, and you begin to get an idea of what this unabashedly entertaining thriller entails.

Six heroin addicts from the slums of Miami – or as one of the characters puts it, “the rim of Miami’s asshole” – wake up on a remote island in the Florida Keys with no memory of how they got there. Turns out they are contestants in a twisted game, orchestrated by four strangers on a yacht just offshore. The six castaways must make a choice: stay on the island and likely perish, or swim across a shark-infested channel to the next island, where there supposedly awaits a cache of pure heroin – “serious gourmet shit.” With tensions high and withdrawal kicking in, the castaways set out in search of the motherlode. What ensues is an action-filled gore-fest, particularly once the alarming intentions of the men on the yacht are revealed in the second act.

Bait is not for everyone, and should be avoided by those with weak stomachs. Even the most hardened readers should brace themselves for troubling descriptions of junkie desperation (“Maria never had money.… What she did have was a tight little ass she was willing to trade for the drugs she wanted”) and human body parts that are pictured “flopping back and forth on the wet sand” like “oversized, half-eaten jellyfish.” One character’s intestines are seen “spilled … and coiled on the beach, where sand dusted [them], resembling some hideous funnel cake.”

Relentless and unflinching, unexpectedly political, and populated by some of the seediest, most unsavoury characters one is likely to encounter in Canadian fiction, Bait zips the reader along with the speed and force of a bullet from an assault rifle.