Tag Archives: Huck Finn

Joe Pike: Precursor to an American Rebellion?

27 May

Thriller author Robert Crais has long used a character named Joe Pike, a sidekick to his main protagonist. Only in 2007 with the arrival of The Watchman has Pike gotten the star treatment. Step aside Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Watson is coming through.

Except Joe Pike is no fussy and proper Watson. He’s a bad-ass, non-nonsense anti-hero that executes swift justice along with the evil people who populate his dark Los Angeles streets. On occasion, if he must, he’ll work in concert with the law. But mostly he functions outside of it.

American literary history is rife with anti-heros who scoff in the face of authority while enforcing justice for others too weak to defend themselves. R. P. McMurphy, Sam Spade, and Huck Finn come to mind.

Joe Pike follows in their tradition. And, I wonder, if like those three, does he presage something else in American history? Rebellion, perhaps?

Huck Finn appeared in 1885 in the midst of labor unrest heretofore unknown in U.S. history, culminating in the Haymarket Massacre in 1886 and the founding of the American Federation of Labor in 1887. Sam Spade arrived 1930 just as the Depression was getting into high gear, leading to the election FDR and the much-needed reform of Wall Street. R. P. McMurphy showed up in 1962 as the Civil Rights movement was accelerating and the seeds of the student anti-war protests were sown.

In Crais second Pike novel, The First Rule,  the “good” guy spells out his anti-hero’s philosophy: 1. protect the innocent (a baby); 2. defend your friend (in this case, a dead man’s honor); and 3. stop a criminal plot (a shipment of illegal weapons). And he’s very precise about achieving his goals in that order. There’s nothing about enforcing the law or cooperating with authority. And like Huck, Spade, and McMurphy, he puts his own life on the line to achieve justice.

Screw authority. Do what’s right.

Joe Pike is no McMurphy, Spade, and certainly no Huck Finn. Few, if any, dissertations will be devoted to his influence in literature. But I found it interesting that after setting aside Crais’s latest novel I read Simon Schama’s essay, “On the brink of a new age of rage,” in the Financial Times (registration required) arguing that he thought revolution was in the air in the U.S. and the UK and that “we face a tinderbox moment.”

He writes: “Should [the U.S. and UK] governments fail to reassert the integrity of public stewardship, suspicions will emerge that, for all the talk of new beginnings, the perps and new regime are cut from common cloth. Both risk being shredded by popular ire or outbid by more dangerous tribunes of indignation.”

Joe Pike will not lead us to rebelling against authority. Then again, neither did any other antihero in fiction. But like them, he captures a mood we feel today. A mood that is fed up with the excuses and the excesses of the powers that be, one that may ignite into a serious rebellion against authority. That certainly would be something dissertations will be written about. I only hope Joe Pike gets himself a footnote.