Pike, the novel's eponymous main character, is not a good person. Never was. Be it running drugs and people across the border, beating his wife, going down the rabbit hole of drug and alcohol addiction, or committing murder, Pike's past is a bleak portrait of a squandered, meaningless life. And he knows it.
While he's nowhere near at peace with the brutalities he committed as a younger man, with age he's removed himself from that destructive and criminal lifestyle, finally reaching a point where he can tolerate himself. Mostly. At least he could, until one of the more shameful truths of his past is thrust upon him, quite literally, in the form of a twelve-year-old granddaughter, Wendy, he didn't even know he had.
Of course that's not really a surprise considering he hadn't seen his own daughter in decades, not since his wife, finally fed up with the beatings, ushered him out of the house and their lives via the claw end of a hammer. Turns out his daughter ended up as a heroin addict, turning tricks to support her habit. When the result of her chasing one too many dragons is an overdose, Pike finds himself the only one left to take care of Wendy. So this is where the book turns around, where Pike bonds with Wendy and is redeemed by doing right by his granddaughter in a way he failed to do with his own daughter, right? Not quite.
There is no redemption in Pike, at least not in the traditional sense. Along with his best friend, Rory, Pike does head to Cincinnati, where his daughter had been living, to find out under exactly what circumstances she died. Not through any sense of nobility, but because he has to know; that's just who he is. Of course, if he doesn't like what he finds out he will have to do something about it, because that's just who he is too. Unfortunately, Pike's quest for the truth puts him on a collision course with Derrick Krieger, a crooked Cincinnati cop who makes Pike look like a Boy Scout.
The reader is introduced to Krieger in a scene at the beginning of the book in which he shoots an unarmed black youth in the back, an act that sparks a race riot that causes Krieger to flee the city... and end up in the small Northern Kentucky town where Pike lives. Exactly why and how Pike and Krieger end up on each other's radar is the crux of the story, and as such is something best left for you to discover on your own. Suffice it to say that nothing good happens when the irresistible force that is Krieger and the immovable object that is Pike finally meet head-on.
Which is rather fitting, as Pike is a book that meets the reader head-on and absolutely gives no quarter. Let's be perfectly clear about that; Pike is straight-up, unflinching, punch you in the face noir of the pitch-black variety. And it's definitely not for everyone. The characters are blunt and uncouth. They drink and take drugs, they cheat and lie, they fight (a lot), they cuss (even more), and almost to a person they see no way out of the dead-end lives they're living. Some readers may find such stark conditions to be off putting, may even think them unrealistically grim.
Yet I'd argue the characters and conditions in Pike are closer to the real world than the fairy tale version of it we're force-fed by Hollywood in movies and television shows where no one ever seems to worry about keeping a roof over their heads or feeding their kids. The beauty of Pike is its grimness, the refusal of author Benjamin Whitmer to offer up false hope for life-changing redemption for people living in a world where every day is considered a success if you manage to stay alive, get fed, and find a place to sleep with a roof over your head. No, redemption in Pike's world lies in accepting who you are and being true to it.
Folks, let's hope Benjamin Whitmer never tries to be anything other than what he is, because Pike is proof positive that what he is is a kick-butt writer with a boatload of talent. More, please.