What I wanted to do in Grind Joint is to write a story about how shortsightedness, and an unwillingness to consider unintended consequences, can make a bad situation worse. Penns River, Pennsylvania, has been economically depressed since the mills closed in the early 70s. Improvements in Pittsburgh never seem to make it as far as Penns River.
Twenty-First Century America has an answer to local economic woes: build a casino. They’re licenses to print money. They may be for the casino, and they may do well for jurisdictions with the savvy to negotiate a good deal with the owners. Penns River is in over its head, even more so when a Russian mobster with a connection to a casino silent partner wants to take over the “ancillary” businesses from the local crime operation: loan sharking, prostitution, drugs as needed.
Penns River isn’t equipped to handle this. The chief of police is good for the small town this used to be; not for a possible mob war. Detective Ben “Doc” Dougherty has been around more: nine years as an MP, with a tour early on in Iraq. Doc turned down better offers elsewhere to return to Penns River for a simple reason: it’s home. He has a proprietary interest in the town and a harder core than the Russians expect. His cousin, Nick Forte, is a private investigator from Chicago, who has returned to Penn River to visit his sick mother. Nick has a harder core than Doc expects.
Grind Joint is a story of how thin the line is between what we think of as normal, and what’s out of control. People who live in small towns think the danger and corruption they read about and see on the news is far from them, when, in fact, it’s one bad decision—one bad break—away. What we see as Baltimore, South Central LA, or, going farther back, Cabrini Green or Bed-Stuy can show up anywhere. Crime seeks loose money, and is drawn to it like ants to a picnic.
As H.L. Mencken said in the quote I used as the epigraph: There is always an easy solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong. That’s true on both sides of the law in Grind Joint.
Grind Joint, with an introduction by Charlie Stella, was released November 16 by Stark House Press.