Pepper is a rather down-on-his-luck everyman who can be a little impulsive . His idea of helping out a woman he’s sweet on is to beat up her troublesome ex in the parking lot of the school where he works. Picked up by a trio of off duty police officers who happens to be in the vicinity, Pepper lands in a poorly funded psychiatric hospital because the officers don’t want to have to fill out the paper work taking him to the police station would require. Pepper’s stability is immediately suspect; he’s drugged and informed that if he can lay low for 72 hours he’ll be released, but self control is not Pepper’s strong suit, and he winds up sleeping through his 72nd hour in a drug induced coma after a scuffle with an orderly.
With the proper amount of medication and an orientation presented by fellow inmate, Dorry, a schizophrenic octogenarian lifer, Pepper soon adjusts to life on the ward. LaValle introduces a sympathetic, complex cast of characters, from the damaged and disenfranchised patients, to the dedicated and incompetent staff; and all of these characters are at the mercy of the patient who lives at the end of a forbidden corridor in a locked room. As if the torment of their own unfortunate circumstances isn’t enough, the population of the hospital is also at the mercy of the white-eyed, buffalo-headed devil who manages covert attacks on the other patients. As Pepper forges relationships with his fellow inmates and navigates the vagaries of his new life, the reader is treated to moments of poignancy and dark humor. But tensions with their otherworldly foe build and propel Pepper into the role of hapless leader as he unites his band of misfits in an outrageous insurrection.
Is this a thriller or a horror story? Is Pepper a reliable narrator? The only thing I can guarantee is that readers will long remember the offbeat voice of Pepper and his band of ragtag companions.