The King of Methlehem is about the drug methamphetamine and the people who use meth, the suppliers who make meth, and the people who try to catch or convict those using or making meth. This novel does not glorify meth use; rather, it seems to paint a grimly realistic picture. The author, a prosecuting attorney in Tacoma, Washington, gives a great deal of insight into how meth use is or is not prosecuted there.
Wyatt James is a 40-year-old detective with a young, beautiful girlfriend, but all he can obsess about is catching Howard, the self-styled King of Methlehem. Howard, a man of many aliases, is into making meth, identify theft, turf wars, and young girls
- not a sympathetic character at all. The latest girl he is trying to put the moves on is the 12-year-old daughter of the woman whose barn he is trying to
turn into a meth lab. Lindquist does a pretty good job of alternating third-person points of view
among the different characters involved.
It can be a little disconcerting to go between Wyatt’s descriptions and evidence of Howard’s abilities, items like a poorly written letter, and Howard’s own view of himself. Wyatt obviously thinks Howard is a drugged-up, paranoid idiot, and it is only a matter of time until he makes a mistake and gets caught. Howard, however, is ambitious; he wants to take over meth production in Pierce County. He believes himself
to be incredibly smart; indeed, some of the things he does seem pretty far thinking, such as when he checks the list of court cases for evidence that could indicate
that one of his associates is becoming an informant. He is also into marketing, as this interesting comparison shows:
“Howard recognizes there is no chemical difference—ice is just a crystallized form of methamphetamine—but some users believe devoutly in the purity of ice and Howard, like Nordstrom’s, recognizes that the customer is always right.” (pg 100)
The portrayal of the mothers in the story who are meth users is unfortunately
incomplete. Maybe it was beyond the scope of this novel, but I did not really
understand the motivation of the two women who open their homes up to Howard for a lab while their
children are living there. Maybe all they are thinking about is meth, but it seems that something else must be going on.
What would give someone such low self-esteem and self-worth to be used the way these women
are? Maybe the drug was their way to forget their past, and to ignore their current parental obligations.
I especially recommend this book to anyone who lives in Tacoma or any other area known for methamphetamine use. The city of Tacoma
itself very much plays a role in this book. The author takes pains to point out the number of serial killers and snipers
who have lived in Tacoma, the fact that it led the country at one point in the number of methamphetamine labs, and mentions a
2004 study where Tacoma was found to be the most stressed-out city in in the U.S. Add to this the overcast skies of the Pacific Northwest, and you might wonder why anyone would live there. Wyatt’s choice is explained: “Drawn to the underdogs, challenges, and adrenaline, Wyatt moved to Tacoma—or T-Town, as he calls it—when he graduated from law school.” (pg 24)
To explore the methamphetamine drug culture further, there is no shortage of memoirs dealing with meth addiction, unfortunately. I personally prefer the fictionalized account of Lindquist here to those bare-all tales. The King of Methlehem is a depressing story, but in the end it is a story and you can take away what you want from it. The take-home message I got was to stay far, far away from this world in any capacity.