The gritty tone of true crime. The wandering plot of a character study. Time and place left somewhat amorphous.
Idaho author A. Evan Whitwell’s “Justifiable Herocide” is not a novel for everyone. Traditional true-crime fans may find the emphasis on character over action creates too slow a pace. Fans of existential fiction might argue that the exploration into the intertwined lives of the characters does not go far enough.
However, readers willing to set aside preconceived notions of genre will be rewarded with an intriguing look at what defines a hero and the way a single event can call that definition into question.
A botched robbery. A mentally ill man thrust into the role of unwitting hero, left nameless and even further broken for his efforts. A detective trying to identify the unfortunate man and bring the robbers to justice. His best friend, a struggling reporter, hoping the tale of the unidentified hero will help his floundering career. The detective’s wife, tiring of her husband’s dedication to his job and his deadbeat friend. A tragedy of errors propelled forward by the complex relationships of a small group of people.
The first thing readers may notice about Whitwell’s writing is its deeply descriptive nature. The graphically violent robbery that sets the novel in motion also ignites a delightfully off-kilter tone. Flush with metaphor and simile, the narrative often waxes poetic, despite the true-to-life subject matter. The use of such grandiose language to describe the mundanity of the characters’ lives creates a comical undertone punctuated by hyperbole. Dialogue usually flows naturally and helps establish the characters’ personalities without feeling forced or inauthentic.
Though a concrete setting is never established, the novel never wants for atmosphere. Rather, the vague nature of the environment gives the work an everyman feel that is furthered by the realistically portrayed people involved. As in some works by Palahniuk or Easton Ellis, readers may find that “Justifiable Herocide” lacks even one truly likeable character. Indeed, the very first character introduced is patently obnoxious, and though readers may find his mitigating circumstances a cause for pity, they will still find him unpleasant. There is the workaholic, the drunkard, the shrew, all with some redeeming qualities, but only just enough to be sympathetic. A beautiful undercurrent of loneliness permeates the work as all of the characters seem to be grasping at real relationships and failing, either due to circumstance or flaws in their person. It is a credit to Whitwell’s writing that the book itself is still likeable even as most of the characters might best be described as depressingly human.
Possibly the most critical thing that could be said for the work is that it could use one more round with a strong copy editor, but this is an issue common to self-published authors who do not have the funding or access available to more established writers. The dialogue also occasionally wanders away from realism, sounding slightly more like a critical analysis of the subjects raised than the way the characters might speak about the subject, but this is rare and forgivable. Given the introspective nature of the work, these lapses do not negatively affect the sublimely melancholic mood. Overall, “Justifiable Herocide” is a strong debut piece and highly recommended for fans of character-driven literary fiction and Idaho local author collections.
Heather Grevatt is an assistant professor and librarian for Boise State University’s Albertsons Library.