If he hadn’t done it before, Les Edgerton proves himself the master of noir fiction with The Bitch. You could consider The Bitch the third in a trilogy of novels—Just Like That and The Perfect Crime being the other two—exploring the nature of the criminal mind, a subject on which Edgerton speaks with some authority. Take the title. We’re all familiar with a couple of levels of usage of the word. To a con, though, “the bitch” is not just a female canine, a despicable woman, or a curse. It’s what most of us call the third strike—the felony conviction that in many states, puts you away for life.
Jake Bishop (whom many of us met in Just Like That) has been going straight after his last release. Good marriage, good job with excellent prospects, kid on the way. Then his ex-cellmate turns up and puts his nuts in a vise. The details don’t matter much here, though they make the read itself an exciting story. There’s a TV show called Criminal Intent which I’ve never watched, but it would be an apt label for how Jake responds to his situation. Though Edgerton’s storytelling enables us to identify with Jake’s dilemma and to understand how he makes his choices as the narrative unfolds, the choices themselves give us deep insight into criminal thinking.
One obvious aspect of the story is that criminals, at least Edgerton’s criminals, are not masterminds. I think it’s one of his points that much of what they do is poorly thought out and/or just plain stupid. If not, maybe they wouldn’t get caught. Of course, the same could be said for most of the rest of us. How many out there wander the earth with multiple now-unprovable DUI’s under their belts. And what kept those DUI’s from turning into something like vehicular manslaughter? More likely luck than superior judgment, impulse control, or drunk driving skills. And for that matter, how many financial crooks who have destroyed lives and livelihoods and families are walking around with not even an indictment following them? But in the world of The Bitch we’re talking about the guys who get caught, convicted, incarcerated. Once. Twice. …
For Edgerton there’s a always a moral question involved in the lawbreaking mix. Some schools of Christian philosophy (dogma) see evil as a distortion of good. Hence, the fall of Lucifer, God’s brightest angel. The Bitch is anything but a religious tract. It’s just a damn good crime novel. However, the analogy still applies in that Jake makes every single one of his choices trying to do the right thing. It’s just that every time… but now I’m going to start giving things away that should be saved for the read rather than revealed in a review.
One last point, though. Not all noir fiction gives us basically good guys going bad through bad judgment and poor choices. Many times, the characters—even the protagonists—are just plain evil from the git. Not Edgerton’s, though. All three of the novels I’ve mentioned involve human beings in tough fixes making complex moral choices, and that gives his fiction a dimension missing from much of the noir nation. Not, once again, as if he’s writing philosophical monographs. Just damn good crime novels with some food for the brain and the soul as well as excitement for the lizard brain.