A while back, after I’d downloaded Stanza for my iPhone, I came across a free sampler of ebooks from Random House. While these mostly consisted of science fiction and fantasy books, it also contained three of Charlie Huston’s novels – Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things, and A Dangerous Man. I knew Huston had written Moon Knight for a while, and I knew his name, so I downloaded them to check out later.
So, one day, while I was waiting for the subway, and in need of a new book, I loaded up Caught Stealing and started to read. I have to say that at first I had my doubts. For much of the beginning, the story, as told by the 1st person narrator, seemed mired in mundane life tasks. It seemed to boil down to sentences like – “I bundled my laundry up. Dumped it into the basket. I took the basket down to the laundry room. I loaded the colors into the machine. Added detergent.” Etc. I don’t mind slow beginnings, setting the stage, but nothing was really happening, and I wanted it to. * But as the novel continued, and as I worked my way into successive novels, I realized that what Huston has done here is capture the motion of a snowball rolling down an arctic mountain. At first it moves slowly, but soon it gathers speed and mass until at the end it’s hurtling along toward a massive collision.
And that’s what these books do. Hank Thompson starts as a normal guy with a bit of a shadowed past. But when he finds a key, all hell starts breaking loose. As the books continue, the hole he finds himself in gets deeper and deeper. Huston’s writing is extremely engaging and it pulls you in. Hank is a strange animal, too – likable and yet not completely. Someone you root for and despise at the same time. Together with the heaps of abuse that Huston piles on him, I could barely tear myself away. I went through all three books in record time.
As to making me sick, he very nearly did. One afternoon I was in the Jay St. subway station waiting for a train and reading A Dangerous Man. A particular scene in the book involves scarring from plastic surgery ** mixed with a description of multiple drug doses. Somehow this all combined to make me literally nauseous, to the point where I thought I was going to throw up. I see that as the mark of a good writer if he can provoke such a strong physical response.
I highly recommend Huston’s work and I intend to read more of his work in the future.
* This may be partly because of where I read it. Waiting for a subway can make one impatient.
** Plastic surgery is one of the few things that makes me queasy. Blood doesn’t bother me, I can watch eye operations up close, but plastic surgery or even talking about plastic surgery – boob jobs, facelifts, whatever – make me nauseous.