Everybody slows down in their forties. Shouldn’t the same go for action heroes? This is the sort of commentary with which author J. Alexander Greenwood subverts the mystery series formula in Pilate’s Blood.
John Pilate returns home to Cross Township to accept a position as the town constable while they work to elect a new sheriff. There he reconnects with old friends and tries to settle into small-town living with his new family. What follows is a compelling character study where intimate moments take precedence over dazzling set pieces and nonstop thrills. There’s still a mystery to be unraveled, but the meat of the story is laser-focused on Pilate’s growth.
Having started the series with this, the fourth book, I haven’t seen Pilate before as a bachelor, but his balancing family life with his responsibilities as a (sort of) cop is very entertaining.
On top of the constable gig and Pilate’s stepdad/father/husband duties, he must contend with a voice in his head, who he’s dubbed “Simon,” perhaps referring to the children’s game Simon Says. Simon voices Pilate’s doubts and fears. Is he capable of standing up to defend his family? Can he keep the town safe, even when an anonymous axeman is on the loose? Is the Saab he’s been driving uncool?
I found myself growing very fond of Pilate over the course of this novel. For one thing, it’s refreshing to read a novel with an anti-gun action hero. Pilate is more comfortable pistol-whipping a perp than firing his firearm. Even in a scenario where the NRA might proffer “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Pilate runs in and proves that this is hogwash and a good guy without a gun can save the day as well.
One significant departure for the genre and presumably for the series is that this is largely a slice-of-life novel until the third act. Although a conspiracy is eventually revealed and quickly unfolds as soon as its actors are introduced, the first half and then some of Pilate’s Blood is spent following Pilate around as he settles into his mundane new job and mundane new life.
He hangs out with his family and sips martinis and Modelos—he loves Modelos so much that I was tempted to grab a cold one while reading—on his patio bar. He goes around town as the constable, dealing with disturbances so inconsequential they’d make the Hot Fuzz swan roll its eyes. He grapples with his inner demons, with his stepdaughter and infant son seemingly his chance for redemption, provided he can protect them.
Pilate’s Blood is a slow burn of a mystery novel, with likable characters both new and returning. Whether you’ve been a fan of the series since Pilate’s Cross or are just jumping in, the humor, heart, and masterful pacing make for a great read. I was very impressed with this entry in the John Pilate series and look forward to checking out the other books.
Pilate’s Blood is now available.
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.