Pike, the new novel from Benjamin Whitmer is the most exciting debut of the year. It is a relentlessly violent tale of revenge and redemption that amount to too little, too late and features one of the most compelling protagonists this side of Charles Willeford. When we first meet Douglas Pike, he is having his twelve-year-old granddaughter, whom he’s never met, pawned off on him by his estranged and deceased daughter’s friend. He argues that he’s unfit to care for anyone, let alone a bereaved little girl, to no avail. There is no one else to do it.
Derrick Kreiger is a dirty cop with a brutally competent streak, who shoots a teenager on the streets of Cincinnati—an act that starts a riot—and is suspended pending an investigation. He won’t spend his down time idly. He’s got debts to collect on, favors to call in and loose ends to tie up in order to save his career and life.
With Rory, an amateur fighter he represents, in tow, Pike sets out to uncover the truth behind his daughter’s demise. The sad story of her life is revealed in layers that point him toward dark corners of the Kentucky/Ohio region. He may not have killed her, but he never helped her either. If Pike had a conscience, this would bother him.
But he doesn’t and neither does Kreiger. They both have codes instead, and as the concentric circles they’re walking begin to draw tight into a direct collision course, the reader is challenged to pick a side and advised to stand back. When they collide, it’s going to be epic. Both men have much to atone for and precisely zero capacity for remorse or regret. Watching these two cruel and unapologetic forces of nature prepare to square off is the engine of this book that runs on blood and whiskey and cocaine.
Pike is hard boiled and completely without mercy. Fans of Ted Lewis’s Jack’s Return Home, (basis of the film Get Carter), or Paul Schrader’s Hardcore will dig this book, as will readers of James Crumley, James Ellroy and Donald Ray Pollock. The bruised and dirty lyricality of the prose may help those with a low threshold for harsh stories of looking for redemptive strains in violence. The characters you may find lovely and worth rooting for, or you may think them beyond redemption, but you wont likely forget them anytime soon. Whitmer does a neat trick with our sympathies, setting us immediately for Pike due to his serious task and against Kreiger due to his loathsome deed, but as the story unfolds, brings both characters closer to the middle by revealing histories and motivations.
Pike is the stuff of country songs, murder ballads and oh, opera. It goes for the throat and then it gets serious. Pick it up, open the pages and watch out, you’re liable to end up with a busted face.
Read my interview with Benjamin Whitmer here.
Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.
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