Les Edgerton's The Bitch is one of the most arresting crime novels I've read this year (no pun intended). It chronicles ex-con Jake Bishop's attempts to avoid "The Bitch," a slang term for "habitual criminal." It's similar to the Three Strike Rule. Jake already has two strikes when a prison buddy calls him up for one last job.
The yarn itself was compelling on its own, but I suspected I was reading a story-within-a-story. Author Edgerton served time in the same prison as his Jake character. His colorful past is already well-known in the crime fiction world, but I still wanted to pick his brain. How much of the story was true?
Fortunately, the author was more than happy to do an interview. Here it is, unedited and unfiltered. Just 100% pure Edgerton. Read the whole thing. His real-world answers could put fiction to shame.
P.S. Click here to buy The Bitch on Amazon. It's available at all other fine e-retailers, too.
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BEN: It's impossible not to compare the lead character in The Bitch, Jake Bishop, to yourself. You both did time in Indiana's Pendleton Correctional Facility, for example. Was The Bitch catharic to write?
LES: First, a small correction. When I was in prison, it was “Pendleton Reformatory.” Only, it wasn’t a “reformatory,” but one of the two Indiana maximum prisons, the other one being Michigan City. The only difference between them was that cons 30 and younger were sent to Pendleton and cons older than 30 went to Michigan City.
The “correctional facility” is a recent name change and nowadays they have a juvie facility in addition to the main prison. While I was there, then-President Johnson conducted a national study and concluded that Pendleton was “the single worst prison in the U.S.”
And, it was. There were eight riots during my stay, not including the one I walked in on when first sent up.
As to your question, Ben, writing it wasn’t much in the way of a catharsis at all. For a couple of reasons.
One, I’ve written about my experiences there in many of my previous novels and short stories, and so the “catharsis” value has pretty much been exhausted by now.
And, two, I’ve never lost a lot of sleep over my experience there. I was a criminal and going to prison is just part of the deal of being “in the life.” That “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the time” is pretty much the way it is. Just a part of the job description. Criminals are pretty good at compartmentalizing things and when you’re in the joint, you’re in the “zone” and not outside, on the bricks in your mind, and when you’re out on the bricks, you don’t waste a lot of time thinking about the joint.
I see a new breed of criminal today on TV where these guys are crying when they get caught. What kind of punk cries?
BEN: One of the themes throughout The Bitch was having to make a bad choice in the pursuit of something better. For example, kill Person X to save Person Y, yet create a new problem with Person Z. It's almost like the game is rigged. Does this reflect your view of the world, that we're doomed to a certain fate no matter what we choose?
LES: Ah! So you’re asking me if I have a Calvinistic view of life—that predestination thingy!
Well, on Monday’s I think that, and on Tuesdays I don’t. On Wednesdays, I don’t care.
To be honest, on most days I don’t care. I have a different vision of morality and God and all that. Most days, I fit the definition of a nihilist quite accurately. Expediency is what gets me through life.
For instance, I don’t perform criminal activities any longer and it’s not because I had some kind of “come to Jesus” moment or some kind of epiphany. I’ve just weighed the pros and cons of performing a criminal act and since I’ve been there (inside the walls), I have a clear idea of what that’s like and so far I haven’t come across a crime whose possible rewards outweigh the possible penalties.
If I ever do, I’m pretty sure I’m off that good citizen dais and out there doing the crime. But, it’ll have to be the perfect crime with an enormous upside. At my age, to go back to the joint is a certain death sentence and I’m not quite ready for that. Incarceration really is a good deterrent once you’ve experienced it.
READ THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW WITH LES EDGERTON HERE.