Who is John Pilate and what makes him interesting?
Is it that he’s a writer? He’s commissioned to write a book about his trauma and near-death experience fighting corruption and killing a man in a small Midwest college town.
Is it that he’s an investigator? Not by trade, but he has a knack for finding trouble and being drawn into murder, piracy and slippery characters.
Maybe because he’s a lover? If you want to count his fling with a local cop, his ex-wife, getting hit on by beachcombers and bartenders, and his current crush Kate, whom he is in danger of losing.
Or perhaps it’s that he’s a nut job? Well, he is seeing a shrink to cope with his imaginary friend and doppelganger Simon.
Or, of course, that he’s a magnet for trouble?
That brings us to Pilate’s Key (Caroline Street Press), a cornerstone novel in the suspenseful John Pilate Mystery Series by J. Alexander Greenwood. Pilate has been described as an “Indiana Jones meets James Bond archetype.” The plot of Pilate’s Key would have enough bait to lure both of them.
Greenwood doesn’t make us wait long for the drama. In the book’s first 200 words, a man stares at “a lifeless eyeball” of a dead man’s face and is about to shove him off a sloop into the waters of Duggan’s Key, near Key West.
Hold that thought and shift quickly to our colorful hero, chilling on the beach in recovery mode following a bizarre, decades-old conspiracy in which he battled a small-city mayor and college dean and came out with respect, emotional baggage and a book deal.
“What I meant to do in that moment was to make sure he didn’t kill me,” says Pilate. “I did the only thing I could. I pulled the trigger.”
But as details surface about the Cross College affair, the matter, while providing insight to the cast of characters, is mere backdrop for the intrigue about to unfold.
As he seems destined to attract, Pilate finds himself a bit too close to a murder scene at a local Key West bar and suddenly in possession of an unusual poker chip. Upon closer scrutiny, concealed within the chip is a small computer memory card containing a map and coordinates at sea.
Does the poker chip connect to the dead man shoved overboard?
Pilate tries to make sense of it all. Along the way, he enlists the help of a lovable, gregarious boat owner Taters; an attractive local female police officer and part-time lover Kay; his boss from afar, Trevathan, in whose house he is staying in Key West; and a retired police chief.
All the while, Pilate tries to come to terms with his station in life. In talking with Kay, he says, “What about losing my job, my wife, my dignity? Why am I pushing forty with nothing to show for it but a so-called righteous shoot, an asshole imaginary rodent for a friend, and a line of greedy fucks waiting for me to screw up or take a chunk out of my ass?”
As for the imaginary rodent, Simon, Pilate is often caught talking back to him while those present wonder whom he is addressing. Says Simon to Pilate, “It could be said that you and I are different sides of the same coin.”
“Don’t remind me,” Pilate replies.
A figment of his imagination or not, the words said (or imagined to be said) by the voice of Simon help Pilate to revelations that advance the plot and his investigation forward.
It’s a fun ride sorting through Pilate’s inner demons and those threatening his life for his butting into business that may or may not be his. Greenwood pulls together a collection of characters that form an intricate plot with lots of moving parts. Watching it all come together makes for an entertaining and satisfying read.
Pilate’s Key is available for purchase.
About J. Alexander Greenwood
J. Alexander Greenwood is the author of the award-nominated John Pilate Mystery Series which includes Pilate’s Cross, Pilate’s Key, Pilate’s Ghost, Pilate’s Blood, Pilate’s 7 and Pilate’s Rose. He co-wrote the Western novel Big Cabin and Dispatches from the West with the late Robert E. Trevathan. Greenwood also wrote the nonfiction top seller, Kickstarter Success Secrets, detailing his successful campaign to crowdfund his third novel.