Monday, April 25, 2011

Review of Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston (2004, Ballantine)

Henry (Hank) Thompson had a bright future in baseball ahead of him until a third baseman landed on his leg as he tried to steal a base, breaking it clean in two. His life then ran off the rails, culminating in a car crash a year later in which his friend is hurled through the windscreen to his death. Moving from California to New York he drifts into a bar job in the Lower East side. Drinking too much, his life drifts by until two Russians decide to drag him across the bar and beat the living hell out of him. A few hours later he passes out and wakes in hospital minus a kidney. He has no idea as to why he took a beating, though he thinks it might be connected to his neighbour, Russ, who left his cat with him before skipping town. Six days later when he arrives back at his apartment the Russians are waiting across the street. The cops are less interested in the Russians than the location of Russ. And two black cowboys with psychotic tendencies are also on Russ’ trail. Russ it seems has double-crossed all of them, and if Hank can’t find Russ, he’s going to pay the price. Within twenty four hours, Hank is on the run, wanted for murder, pursued by the NYPD, the Russians and the cowboys. All he wants is to stay alive, but the whole city it seems is looking for him.

Caught Stealing starts at a canter and is soon at a flat out gallop. Huston’s writing is terse, edgy and captivating. I was hooked from the first page to the last. The basic premise is that of the wrong man in the wrong place. Thompson is a resourceful enough character to survive, but only just, meaning that the plot unfolds through a series of chases and violent, visceral near-misses, double and triple crosses, and edge of the seat scenes. And as the story unfolds Thompson slowly transforms from victim to reluctant avenger. This really is an adrenaline filled read, cracking along at a terrific pace. Huston does a great job of introducing the reader to Hank and his world in an economical, yet rounded and somewhat self-depreciating fashion, and in constructing an action filled, yet strangely credible, plot. The backcover blurbs say things like ‘breathless’, ‘unflinching’, ‘hopped-up thriller’, ‘blast of a read’, ‘reads like the Maltese Falcon on crack’ and Caught Stealing is all of these and more. I thought it was a hoot. If someone has some spare cash for the film rights, and they’ve not already been snapped up, then it would make a terrific movie. Definitely in my top three reads of the year so far.

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