A weatherman is drawn into a web of deceit and murder in Pepper’s (Childlike, 2012) thriller.
Thirty-something Matt Phair is a newcomer to Rochester, New York, where he’s parlayed his natural charisma into a job as a meteorologist at a local news station, despite his lack of training in the field. He has no problem attracting women, but he’s disappointed with his local options. Then he meets his teenage neighbor, Kim Kurtz, after she’s locked out of her home on a cold winter morning, following an argument with her mother. Matt, who witnessed the argument from his apartment window, invites her inside. Despite their age difference, a friendship blossoms between them. But their attraction soon goes too far, despite the fact that Matt is cognizant of the wrongness of his actions. When Kim tells him that her father, Ralph, is sexually abusing her, Matt wants to help, but without revealing their own situation. The situation gets more complicated when Kim’s mother, Eleanor, confronts him—and then offers to keep quiet in exchange for Matt killing Ralph. The narrative opens with a subplot that could have stood on its own as a separate story: a year before Matt met Kim, Ethan Hunter, a lawyer and fellow Rochester transplant, fell in love with her and received a similar proposition. This subplot and the main narrative converge in surprising ways. Overall, Pepper’s fast-paced thriller boasts deft plot twists and vividly drawn characters. However, all the main players are all deeply unsympathetic, despite their awareness of the consequences of their choices. Matt’s interactions with Kim drive the action in the novel’s second half, and his attraction toward her seems predatory, as when he describes her as having “breasts shaped by the powerful hands of God, if God liked enormous breasts.”
A grim, violent tale with well-developed but objectionable characters.