While no one will claim that J. Kent Messum’s debut novel Bait is any kind of high art, I would be surprised if no one is emotionally invested in the plight of the six poor souls who find themselves in a waking nightmare. This is the kind of book that I would gravitate toward in high school. It is filled with graphic violence, explicit sex scenes and heinous amounts of drug use that does an effective job of shocking the audience and gaining a cheap sense of curiosity from the reader. There really isn’t much special about this book, though. Despite its premise, it doesn’t break new ground or contain scenes or people I haven’t seen a million times over. But they seem real enough for me to keep reading, and there are a few surprises and shockers as the plot races toward its blood-soaked end. The coolest plots are the simplest: six strangers wake up on a deserted island off the coast of Miami. Soon, they all realize that they are heroin addicts, and a covert group of men have put them on this island to play a game. That game: on a nearby island sits a cache of heroin, the purest form they have had, and the product they have been using for the past few weeks. They must swim to the island through shark-infested waters. The plot alone grabs your attention, and it does a good job to not screw up that initial intrigue with any heavy-handedness. Sometimes, it does read like a guy who has OD’d on Palahniuk with characters simply existing to be picked off by ravenous sharks, but they become more fleshed out towards the end, which I felt was too nihilistic if Messum isn’t planning a sequel. This is a very different book than what I have been reading recently, and it was a very welcome experience.