Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston

I myself am a relative latecomer to the novels of Charlie Huston; like many readers, the critical acclaim of The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death caught my attention (reviewed here). That, and some free book offers for the Kindle. Those of you who have followed this author from the beginning can have your moment of superiority. Enjoy.

The rest of us, who may be looking for an introduction to Charlie Huston's 9 (by my count) novels, would make a good start with Caught Stealing, a dark suspense novel that begins a trilogy involving Hank Thompson. In Caught Stealing, we learn how Hank gets into the mess that occupies the following two novels: from being a promising high school baseball player, talented enough to be followed by scouts, to being overwhelmed by a series of events that seem largely out of his control that drive him ever deeper into a world of mayhem, murder, and a bag full of 4 million much-contested dollars. The humor is dark, the prose is taut, and the main character is well developed. My only real complaint about the novel is that some of the other characters are painted deftly but perhaps too deftly as versions of stereotypes. Yvonne, a girlfriend, a bar owner who befriends and employs Hank, and a cat named Bud, are in my view the next best developed characters, and consequently the ones with whom the reader can most empathize with. The novel takes place largely in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, and knowledge of place and history are evident but lightly applied when appropriate. All in all, a well-paced and well written novel in the mystery genre.

I would offer the following as a thought for discussion for anyone who has read or will read the novel. Hank is the antithesis of many central characters in mystery novels. Often these are antiheroes, but antiheroes who stick to a code of honor (not society's code, but a self-consistent one) and are intensely intelligent and observant as well as tough, which qualities are often the ones that solve the mystery and allow them to save themselves from peril. Hank is somewhat the opposite: overcome by events he doesn't understand, forgetful at critical moments, and morally compromised even by his own standards. Read and discuss (in the comments below)!

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Chris said...

Great review. I recently downloaded (free from Amazon) and read all three of the Henry Thompson trilogy books. I agree with your assessment of the first book. The second book, I can only defer to a review I read on Amazon which said it was like crack. I read it over the course of a late night and a morning. It had a torrid pace, but not as much character development. The third book was more like the first.

KindleDude said...

Thanks, Chris. I didn't see that review on Amazon, but I recently told a friend that Charlie Huston was like Elmore Leonard on methamphetamine. Same theme, I guess!

I would say I agree with your assessment. I found the development of the main character in "The Mystic Arts..." to be profound.

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