Jake Bishop is a two-time loser, a B&E specialist who is down to his last shot at life. One more conviction and he'll be sent away for good as part of Michigan's three strikes and you're out habitual offender law, or The Bitch, as it's known to the cons.
But Jake has no intention of ever seeing the inside of a prison cell again. He learned a trade - hairdressing - while on the inside and discovered he's got a talent for it. Using hard work and a little luck, Jake turns his newly discovered talent into steady employment and eventually the opportunity to open his own shop.
Jake is determined to turn his life around, and he's doing it. His wife is pregnant with their first child, his shop will be opening in just a few weeks. Things couldn't be going better.
Until he receives a call from his from his old prison cellmate, Walker Joy, that is. Walker is fresh out of the can, and Jake owes Walker big-time, thanks to an incident that occurred in prison. The ex-con is planning a big score. He needs Jake's help and has come to collect on the debt.
One last job.
And that's how it starts. Things go rapidly downhill from there for Jake Bishop, who is forced to walk a razor-thin line he hoped never to walk again, knowing that getting caught would mean the end of his family, his freedom, his life.
I finished reading THE BITCH last night and haven't stopped thinking about it since. Les Edgerton has written a rare crime novel, making a sympathetic character out of a guy most people would cross the street to avoid if they saw coming the other direction.
THE BITCH isn't for everyone. If you prefer your crime fiction sanitized, suitable for all viewers, you're probably going to want to stay away from this particular novel. It's violent and gritty and profane. It's also incredibly human and even, at times, tender, as we watch in open-mouthed horror a guy forced into a course of action that can only end one way - badly.
I'm a pretty easy grader when I review books. I write novels, and I know how much blood, sweat and tears go into the process, so I don't often have a whole lot to say about any book that's openly negative. But a book like THE BITCH makes me question my reviewing process because it's so head-and-shoulders above most other fiction.
I love noir fiction precisely because it's so real. I consider Tom Piccirilli the master of modern noir, and I'm here to say Les Edgerton has vaulted himself to a position right behind Piccirilli with THE BITCH. I give this book five stars, only because I can't give it six. Or seven.
It's just that good.