By Charlie Huston
First Published: 2004
Cover Design & Illustration: Tony Greco
Review © 2014 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Thriller, Crime Fiction, Noir
Charlie Huston has become one of my favorite writers for gritty action novels which contain both extreme violence and writing of the highest quality. This is not a combination that you find every day. After being impressed with three of his more recent novels, I decided it would be a good idea to try his earliest debut novel, not to mention the fact that I found a used copy at a quite reasonable price. The novel in question is titled Caught Stealing and it has all of Huston’s trademark characteristics. While it doesn’t have quite the polish of his more recent novels, it has all the thrills and high tension that I’ve come to expect.
Caught Stealing begins with the main character, Hank, recovering painfully from a severe beating by two unknown men for an unknown reason. In the second paragraph, Hank says, “I sit on the pot and rest my forehead against the opposite wall. I have a pee hard-on and if I try to take a leak standing up, I’ll end up hosing the whole can”. There you have it, the essence of this novel distilled into two sentences. With this novel you’re in for brutally realistic thoughts and dialog with healthy doses of black humor within a noir thriller about crime and criminals.
Hank soon finds that multiple parties think he is a key player in some kind major criminal activity. Soon he finds himself in the middle of at least two groups of criminals and a corrupt detective. The action heats up quickly and Hank finds himself caught helpless in events out of his control. This seems to be just a further extension of his downward path which started in high school when he was a highly rated major league prospect until he was caught stealing third base and in the process suffered a severe injury that ended any hopes of professional sports. When his youthful hopes were dashed, Hank’s life veered toward a slowly downward spiraling trajectory which has suddenly taken an abrupt turn for the much worse.
The character development of Hank is excellent. He is far from a traditional hero. In fact, he is a disheartened man who has passively accepted his fate. He drinks too much, takes too many drugs, and is heading nowhere until his life is changed dramatically by chance. When he finds himself in the center of life or death situations, he can’t help but start taking things a bit more seriously. He is finally forced to accept that he is going to have to take some responsibility for himself if he is going to have any chance to survive. This eventually transforms Hank into a genuine anti-hero who discovers that when he takes matters into his own hands, he can still achieve at least a few moments of success.
Caught Stealing is as far as you can get from a Disney cartoon adventure. Nothing is simply black or white, and good innocent people get hurt and killed in bad ways. The writing is gritty, dark, and realistic and the “hero” doesn’t necessarily make all good choices. If these kinds of elements wrapped up into a nonstop action, high tension thriller sounds interesting; Caught Stealing should be high on your reading list.