THE BIG UGLY BY JAKE HINKSON
Beat To A Pulp
October 11, 2014
Ellie Bennett served her time. She kept her mouth closed and served her 13 months in Eastgate Penitentiary for Women. Now she’s got to put herself back together as a free woman. It was almost ironic, really. As a corrections officer at Eastgate, Ellie never expected to one day be a resident there. But life rarely goes as planned. No one plans on your 40th birthday present being getting released back into civilized society. No one plans on getting framed for beating up a prisoner. No one plans on being middle aged and having their life ruined and in shambles. But Ellie is tough, and in THE BIG UGLY, Jake Hinkson shows us just how tough.
She has the love of her brother and his family to fall back on. Crashing at her brother Nate’s place and working in his furniture refurbishing shop gives Ellie a sense of stability she needs and the employment her parole officer demands. Things take a turn when Ellie meets her PO, Jimmy Romandetto. He’s a bit rough around the edges, but essentially a straight shooter. But when Romandetto takes a call during their meeting and puts Ellie on the phone with Charles Hamill of the Faith and Liberty Legal Initiative, things get interesting. Hamill is the right-hand-man for Brother Jerry Kingston, a fundamentalist making a serious run at the US senate. Hamill wants Ellie to look for another former resident of Eastgate named Alexis Kravitz. The reason? Not for Ellie to know. But the cash is too inviting for her to say no. And really, working freelance for a church group is by no means a parole violation. So? Easy money.
Needing the additional paycheck, Ellie agrees to do some poking around for Kravitz. As her search takes her around Osotouy City, we see how the walls that Ellie was surrounded by physically in Eastgate are still with her. After having zero privacy for over a year, now she can’t help but keep her missing persons mission a secret from her brother, even though he loves and accepts her unconditionally. Even Nate’s wife Bethany, who is a true believer in the Lord, accepts Ellie into their home. Family is the most important thing, after all. But Ellie can’t help setting up walls.
Things only get messier when Ellie is called to meet the mysterious Junius Kluge, a man who has his fingers in the seedier side of Osotouy City. Kluge is working with Governor Lou Don Colfax, who is also making a run for the US Senate. And he also wants Ellie to find Alexis Kravitz. How perpetual screw-up Kravitz fits into the jigsaw puzzle of political games being played by the powerbrokers of Arkansas is the mystery that Ellie will have to solve, no matter the extremes she may be forced to go to in order to protect herself physically and emotionally.
Jake Hinkson tells an impressive tale with THE BIG UGLY. With UGLY, Hinkson does the impossible: He gives us a protagonist that has every right to be boiling with vengeance, but is cool and even tempered. He gives us supporting characters that should fall neatly into typecast roles, but sidestep cliché at every turn. Ellie is smart and capable, but she’s no super-hero. She just wants her life back.
No write up of THE BIG UGLY would be complete with out a mention of the cover. Michael Kronenberg has designed one of the most striking covers I’ve ever seen. The only time you stop staring at it, is the time you spend reading the mystery inside.