Jake Bishop is on the verge of achieving the American dream. He’s married, he and his wife have their first baby on the way, he has some college under his belt, and he’s a few short weeks from making the leap from working as a stylist in someone else’s salon to opening his own shop.
True, Bishop didn’t exactly take the most direct route to get there, and the trip wasn’t without some serious bumps in the road. For one thing, he’s a recovering alcoholic, though it’s been years since he’s touched the stuff. More serious, he’s an ex-con, having done two stints for burglary at Pendleton Reformatory, a maximum security prison in Indiana.
Still, the past is the past, and everything seems to be going fine. Until the call comes that alters Bishop’s life irrevocably.
Seems Bishop’s old cellmate from Pendleton, Walker “Spitball” Joy, has a job he’d like Bishop’s help with. The kind of job Bishop doesn’t do anymore. Problem is, Bishop kinda owes Spitball, who looked out for Bishop during his last stretch in the joint. Figuring he owes Spitball at least a sit-down, Bishop goes for the meet. There, he finds out the situation is much more dire than just a prison buddy trying to cash in a moral IOU. Seems Spitball’s in deep with the wrong person, someone he shared information about Bishop with. The kind of information that gives them leverage Bishop can’t easily say no to.
If it were just him, Bishop could simply disappear, start over somewhere else. But the nasty piece of work pulling Spitball’s strings has threatened Bishop’s family, not just his own freedom. Now, Bishop is caught between his desire to do the right thing and “the bitch”—with two strikes already on his record, a third would make Bishop a habitual criminal, sending him back to prison for life. Forced into a corner, Bishop agrees to take the job, which sets in motion chain of events that goes from bad to worse…to no turning back.
In the hands of most authors, The Bitch would easily be nothing more than a run-of-the-mill story of blackmail, burglary and revenge. But author Les Edgerton isn’t just any author. You see, like Bishop, Edgerton also spent time at Pendleton for burglary. Described at one point by President Lyndon Johnson as “the single worst prison in the US,” spending time there obviously makes an impression, and Edgerton’s experience permeates The Bitch with a verisimilitude you can’t learn from a book or earn via an MFA. Of course, even that real-world experience wouldn’t matter if Edgerton didn’t also have a masterful, razor-sharp way with words and highly tuned sense of pacing.
Every step Bishop takes, the screws turn a little tighter, the hooks set a little deeper, his plight brought to life by Edgerton with excruciating, squirm-inducing detail and believability. Such is Edgerton’s skill in relaying the frustration and desperation that drive Bishop on down a path he knows deep down can only end in disaster, that even when Bishop starts making decisions that are at first merely subjectively questionable but quickly devolve to objectively reprehensible, the reader still actually sympathizes with him. You can’t help but marvel at the creative, on the fly solutions Bishop comes up with every time an obstacle pops up in his path. Unfortunately, while his solutions serve to solve the immediate problem at hand, the light they create at the end of the tunnel is most definitely that of an oncoming train—the bitch.
With The Bitch, Edgerton challenges readers to put themselves in the shoes of a man in a truly no-win situation, one where it’s not only his life on the line, but those of his family as well—there is no easy solution, no way out without getting dirty. And in that sense The Bitch is not a comfortable read. Its characters are of highly questionable morals, their actions unquestionably violent, their words often unapologetically profane. The Bitch is, however, an extremely powerful read, one that will stick with you long after you’ve turned the final page.
The Bitch is available from New Pulp Press (978-0989932301).