Most people are not likely to think about methamphetamines – better known as meth or crystal meth – as they go about their daily lives. Perhaps it might cross their mind when they are forced to go to the pharmacy counter and sign a log book in order to purchase allergy medicine or when a meth related fire makes the news. But what started out as a small problem largely limited to the West Coast soon blossomed into a full blown national tragedy. See here for more details on the issue.
As you might have guessed from the title, Mark Lindquist’s latest novel The King of Methlehem takes the reader on a fictional tour of the unique world of meth users and those seeking to staunch the drug’s flow and limit its damage.
Set in what is in many ways the center of the meth problem in this country – Pierce County and Tacoma, Washington – the story centers on detective Wyatt James a lawyer turned cop who admits to be obsessed with his job. His latest obsession soon becomes a tweaker – a slang term for meth addicts – who goes by the alias Howard Schultz (the Starbucks chairman in real life) among many others but who prefers the title “The King of Methlehem.” Howard already has a collection of addicts and criminals working for him (stealing identities, generating cash, and procuring the necessary ingredients for the drug they desperately need) but he has plans to take his small time operation to new heights.
Using a series of informants James is seeking to track down Howard and shut down the operation but he always seems to be just a step behind. Finally, he manages to put Howard behind bars, but a legal technicality allows Howard to go free. This only fuels Howard’s ambition and James’s obsession.
The King of Methleham is a quick and enjoyable read. Lindquist weaves in a lot of background material (the nature of the meth problem and its development; the revitalization of Tacoma; etc.) and develops his characters well, but the pace is quick and he keeps a sense of humor despite the rather bleak subject. The writing is crisp and has a nice balance between action and exposition.
In addition to the cat and mouse chase between Howard and James, there is also the interplay of the relationships in James’s life; with his friend Mike Lawson – the supervisor of the drug trial unit – and James’s bookish stripper girlfriend Suki. Without slowing down the plot Lindquist explores the difficulty James has in balancing his drive to capture Howard with his friendship with Mike and his relationship with Suki. Lawson serves as a kind of alter ego to James; the life he might have lived had he stuck with law. There are threads that touch on politics, culture, philosophy, and relationships all weaved into the basic crime story. There isn’t anything particularly deep or insightful about any of these musings or back-stories but they add a sense of depth and make for interesting characters. Lawson in particular is fleshed out quite a bit.
All of this adds up to make it a great summer read: fast paced, well written, with an interesting setting and subject. So if you are looking for a book to read at the beach or by the pool – or safely ensconced in your favorite chair cooled by the air conditioning – check out The King of Methleham.