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.
Jake's been inside. Twice. One more conviction and he's going away for good.
Fortunately for Jake, he's sick of prison life and has decided to go straight.
He's been to college to better himself and has even built a reputation as a hair-stylist that's good enough for him to set up his own salon. I love this incongruity - big, bad Jake with his blood-stained hands chopping away at a perm.
And he's met a woman too. Paris. Beautiful, sexy, smart and about to have Jake's baby. Looks like he's hit the jackpot, no?
Thing is, Jake doesn't know his stories. Paris was the guy who did it for Troy. A name like that and maybe he should have sensed that his bed-of-roses might be full of thorns.
`It all began with a phone call.'
The first thorn appears in the form of Walker Joy, one-time cellmate and saviour.
Walker's in big trouble. He owes big money to big crooks. One job will see him safe. All he needs is a break in man.
Of course, Jake's not having any of it. He knows which side his bread is buttered.
Problem is Walker has a few aces up his sleeve and Jake knows he's screwed. It's enough to drive an alcoholic to drink. Really.
From there on in the story unfolds. Jake is reeled in like a prize-fish on the end of the line, all the while knowing that he's got a hook right up his behind. He's not a bad bloke, you see. Or at least his heart's in the right place. Circumstance has him by the short-and-curlies and no matter how he examines the angles, he's lined up for the corner pocket.
At every point of the story where a ray of hope appears, the world conspires against him and as every chapter comes to a close, the need to read on grows stronger.
It's a well-told tale. I found it hard not to feel for Jake. If it were a film or a play, it would be the kind that would have you shouting out for him to get the hell out of there. `He's behind yer!' and `He's still behind yer!'
On the whole, the plot is very much in the present and is all the more uncomfortable for that. It's punctuated by prison stories and tales from Jake's past that should possibly have made me think less of the man; instead it had the opposite effect.
Well paced, engaging and very entertaining, it's like one of the small diamonds in the collection Jake is aiming to steal.
The ending is perfectly weighted. Sits on top of the story like the bowler hat on a dapper gent, a hat that needs to be doffed every time Les Edgerton approaches.
Well done, sir.