Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review of Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston (Ballantine Books, 2005)

After being in the wrong place at the wrong time and barely surviving murder and mayhem in New York, Hank Thompson has been hiding out in Mexico in a beach hut, keeping his head low and living a life that doesn’t suggest he has four and half million dollars buried in the sand.  The Russian mafia though has long memories and tentacles and when a nosy backpacker turns up, Hank knows it’s time to move out.  He also knows he needs to try and protect his parents who, now the mafia know he’s alive, have become a potential leverage point.  Getting out of Mexico and into the US, however, is not straightforward when you’ve corrupt policemen on your trail and you’re on the ten most wanted fugitives list for crimes you mostly didn’t commit.  After four years of relative calm, a vicious tornado has been released and its tracking Hank from Mexico to California to Las Vegas, attracting head cases and spitting out dead bodies.  Hank is not about to roll over though and accept defeat, even if it just leads him further into trouble.

Six Bad Things is the second in the Hank Thompson trilogy, though it can be read as a standalone (though I’d recommend reading the excellent Caught Stealing first).  It starts relatively sedately with a wonderful scene about how Hank has become addicted to cigarettes, gains a little pace and then opens out full throttle.  Huston excels at writing fast paced action sequences and riffing dialogue (the conversations between Hank and Sally are exceptionally good), and he strings these together into an endless succession of scrapes, highs and lows, and twists and turns.  Hank is an engaging lead character, teetering on an anti-hero tightrope between goody and baddy, and the other characters are well penned, providing interesting foils.  Whilst the story is an enjoyable romp, it’s not quite as engaging as Caught Stealing, a couple of bits seemed a little over-contrived, and the end was a wee bit flat, working more to set up the third instalment rather than closing this one off.  Nevertheless, it is superior stuff, and anyone who enjoys fast-action noir with wise-cracking dialogue, will gallop through it wearing a wry smile.  Bring on A Dangerous Man, the final instalment in the series.

4 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I will use this on Friday if it's okay.

John said...

Huston is another underappreciated crime writer. Why isn't he being nominated for awards left and right? CAUGHT STEALING blew me away. It so impressed me I wrote a fan letter -- something I hadn't done since I was a teen decades ago. I also read and admired his book about the crime scene clean-up guy, THE MYSTIC ARTS OF ERASING ALL SIGNS OF DEATH, a good example of how black Huston's sense of humor can get when he really lets loose.

Rob Kitchin said...

John, agreed he's a brilliant writer. His ear for dialogue is superb.

Travis McGee said...

I too love Huston's writing, although I found Sleepless unreadable. His noir vampire series is excellent! Don't let the vampire angle scare you off. The series drips noir as fast as it spills blood. The first one is the excellent Already Dead and is a very fast read. I'm not much of a fantasy reader but I liked the series just as much as the the Hank Thompson trilogy.