Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pike Is a Beautiful, Bitter Draught

Note: Readers should be aware that I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.

I think the way a person takes his coffee reveals interesting things about him. I know a high-powered derivatives trader who can only stomach Frappuccinos and a retiring artist who daily downs multiple cups black as midnight. Forget the pedigree of the beans or the brewing method: You can gauge an individual's bitterness tolerance by how fast he reaches for sugar and cream. Dark novels seem to function the same way. Place a title that's concerned with grimmer stuff than sunshine and puppies in a reader's hands, and see how far along that person's bookmark moves. Benjamin Whitmer's literary noir Pike is just such a novel.

Pike's daughter is dead, no surprise given that she was a heroin-addled whore. Anyone could've seen it coming. What does surprise Pike is how much he cares. See, he barely knew the girl, having skipped out on her mother after a short, rocky marriage marred by sharp words and sharper blows. He barely knew himself in those days. Fueled by cocaine and free-floating rage, he skipped from job to job, enforcing and dealing, smuggling illegals across the Texas border. It took a job gone bad, very bad, to make him see what a mess he'd made of the lives of everyone who'd crossed his path. So he now wants to set things right however he can, even -- no, especially -- in the matter of his deceased daughter. But a search for the responsible party will lead Pike to Derrick Kreiger, a cop dirtier than the Cincinnati streets he works, a cop who has sparked one of the worst race riots in the city's history by slaying a young black man in public.

Despite having just penned that previous paragraph, I'm looking at it a bit askance now. Sure, it's a fair summary, but it doesn't adequately capture the feel of Pike. Whitmer's more interested in examining characters' down-and-out settings and spinning striking similes than in action, which reminds me of Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone. But when the plot kicks into gear about halfway through, so does the violence. And, goodness, what violence it is. It's a lot closer to Allan Guthrie or Chuck Palahniuk's Turkish-strength prose than the non-fat, soy-latte mysteries of Patricia Cornwell. Whitmer often pulls away from gritty detail, yet not all the time. Descriptions of a grievous abdominal wound and an amazingly brutal execution with brass knuckles almost made me put down the book. Pike is moving in some places, elegantly written in others. In the end, though, it's a truly bitter draught.

(Picture: CC 2007 by
the Italian voice)


C. N. Nevets said...


Loren Eaton said...

Bottom line: It's well-written and very, very bleak. Consider yourself informed or (depending on your perspective) warned.