Book Review: Bait, by J. Kent Messum

Imagine a reality show where drug addicts had to hop from island to island trying to be the first to a box of drugs to quell the ache of addiction shuddering through their bodies. It would be like The Amazing Drug Race, except sharks are patrolling the waters around the islands waiting for the splish-splash of water. You get the picture. If you can imagine that scenario, then you’ve just discovered J. Kent Messum’s frantic tale of addiction, sharks, and maybe even some redemption that is Bait. Oh, and by the way, nobody will care if you’re missing because you’re a low life addict who has burned every bridge there is to burn. The only way out, possibly, is to play the game.

BaitFrom the publisher: No one is coming to your aid. We have ensured this.

Six strangers wake up on a remote island in the Florida Keys with no memory of their arrival. They soon discover their common bond: all of them are heroin addicts. As the first excruciating pangs of withdrawal make themselves felt, the six notice a yacht anchored across open water. On it lurk four shadowy figures, protected by the hungry sharks that patrol the waves. So begins a dangerous game. The six must undertake the impossible—swim to the next island where a cache of heroin awaits, or die trying. When alliances form, betrayal is inevitable. As the fight to survive intensifies, the stakes reach terrifying heights—and their captors’ motives finally begin to emerge.

Wiggle little worm, wiggle…

Mr. Messum’s prose is lean and mean. His sentences and paragraphs seem to be carefully crafted to keep the action train chugging along. It makes for a quick read.

The characters in Bait were believable as not only addicts, but down on their luck street urchins too. They’re street smart and know every trick in the book when it comes to scoring their next hit. I really liked the “hood mentality” Mr. Messum displayed. It made his characters that much more believable. You don’t find that so much in today’s books.

This book is exactly as advertised. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that will have you on the edge of your seat wondering which character will be picked off next, then you’ve come to the right place. A lot of what makes Bait work is the author’s simple, yet well thought out approach. Could this happen? Sure it could. Would anyone notice if addicts suddenly started vanishing off the streets? Maybe. And then readers start putting themselves into the character’s shoes. What if it wasn’t drugs waiting on the next island, but a loved one? How far would we go? That’s the brilliance of Bait.

The first half of the book alternates between present day and a few days ago. I would have preferred more of a chronological timeline. After the events of the prologue, readers get the gist of the game. I think the book would have worked better if Mr. Messum would have kept things in real time. We’d even get a better sense of the bad guys too.

Speaking of the bad guys, I would have liked a little more from them. They go through an awful lot to set these little games up and then sit around waiting for something to happen. I found them to be an interesting bunch and would have liked more time with them. Why would these former soldiers follow Greer so faithfully, knowing what they were doing? I understand their loyalty, but I believe someone would have had some kind of objection. A bigger picture would have helped.

I like the sense of isolation Mr. Messum creates. Taking place on a cluster of small islands, it’s easy to believe these characters have nowhere to go and have no choice but to play along.

Bait is simply a well thought, face paced read. It’s raw and holds nothing back. Mr. Messum shows readers humanity at its worst, but also reminds us that even the worst of us still have something good inside. We’re all redeemable.

J. Kent Messum is officially on my radar. I can’t wait to see what he cooks up next. If it’s half as good as Bait, it’ll be worth the wait. Consider me hooked. 😉

What I liked:

  • The pace. Bait is a quick read. It’s so interesting that you could devour it in one sitting if you so choose.
  • The isolation. Waking up on a small island with nothing but the clothes on your back would be a nightmare for anyone. Add to that the need to satisfy a craving for drugs and it’s easy to understand why these characters have no choice but to play this twisted game. There really is no escape.
  • The street vibe. Each character is a rock bottom addict. They’ve been hustling for their next score for some time now and Mr. Messum does a good job incorporating that hood mentality, or street vibe. Even though these characters would like it if everyone lived, ultimately they’re looking for their next hit.
  • The constant threat. Keeping a yacht full of soldiers and God knows what lurking beneath the blue waves, Mr. Messum successfully creates a constant source of tension. Will the soldiers move against our contestants, or will the local wildlife strike first? You’ll have to read.
  • The characters. Even though most of the contestants are addicts with little to live for, I found myself rooting for them. I wanted them to make it and cringed every time something happened.
  • Mr. Messum’s style. The prose is lean and mean. Mr. Messum writes like he’s spent some time on the streets, and his style will appeal to every kind of reader.

What I didn’t like:

  • The broken timeline. I think this story would have worked better chronologically, instead of alternating between current events and a few days ago. Learning about the characters was just as interesting as the action, in my opinion. Alternating felt a bit tedious after a while.
  • Not enough time with the bad guys. The former soldiers do a lot to set up these little games. I would have like to know more about each soldier, maybe even have them participate more.

Overall: I’m giving J. Kent Messum’s Bait, four out of five stars. Bait is as quick as a Tiger shark and as visceral as one too. I could easily see this on the big screen and would be one of the first in line for a ticket. Mr. Messum does an outstanding job creating a sense of dread while moving the story along at break neck speed. Bait, quite simply, is an entertaining and fun read. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.

You can find out more about J. Kent Messum by visiting his official website here:

You can follow J. Kent Messum on Twitter here:


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