The Shotgun Rule
By Charlie Huston
First Published: 2007
Review © 2012 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Thriller, Modern Fiction
The Shotgun Rule by Charlie Huston is a gritty thriller about teenage friends who seem to be looking for trouble and end up getting into a lot more trouble than they bargained for. It highlights some of the dangers lurking in just about every community and is especially scary for parents who have to worry about their kids getting caught up with the kind of dangerous people that the kids in this story encounter. It’s a completely realistic hard hitting novel that will make you want to make sure you know what your kids are up to when they’re out of your sight.
With plenty of graphic violence and a story centered on teenage boys looking for trouble, this is definitely not a novel for everyone. The reader must be willing to join the everyday highly juvenile world of four high school boys. Typical conversations focus on which bands are “cool” and which are most “gay”. On the other hand, the conversations feel completely authentic and you soon feel like you are getting to know these four boys quite well which greatly increases the emotional impact later on.
The boys in this novel feel trapped by their low socioeconomic status and are looking for some way out or at least for some excitement. The leader of the group is George who has an abundance of natural charisma and is both “cool” and tough. The most volatile member is Paul who is always spoiling for a fight. He’s obviously over compensating for some kind of abuse he’s suffered from at home. Hector is a Hispanic kid who loves heavy metal and expresses his rebellion with a Mohawk haircut. He and Paul particularly enjoy trading insults. The only member who doesn’t really fit in is Andy who is two years younger than the others and a complete klutz but is an academic genus. He skipped two grades to become a socially and physically immature Junior in high school. The only reason he’s in the group is because he’s George’s younger brother. Hector and Paul tease Andy all the time but over time he grows on them.
When Andy’s bike gets stolen, a series of events are put into motion which leads to the boys getting mixed up with a local meth lab, some brawny but not so bright thugs, and the local drug lord. While there are some comical moments, most of the danger is deadly serious as the boys learn that even in the suburbs there are people who won’t hesitate to use the most extreme violence. Once things start to go bad, the tension ratchets up and The Shotgun Rule becomes a serious page turner which you won’t want to put down.
Huston does a terrific job of character development for the teenage main characters and nicely fleshes out the adults in their lives. He also doesn’t skimp on the villains who, as a result, come across as being very realistic. He shows how people can be beat down by life and poverty when they don’t see any future for themselves and he also shows how a person can beat the odds and turn his back on a life of crime, given the right motivation. On the other hand, this still doesn’t guarantee a happy ending.
I was initially worried that this novel might veer towards being either too juvenile or too disturbing but I was happy to find that Huston did a great job of avoiding these problems. He also does an excellent job of generating serious tension which is highly magnified because of how well the reader grows to know the characters. While there are some dark and violent moments to the story there are also some inspirational scenes about the power of friendships and family.
For those who can handle it, The Shotgun Rule provides a high tension, harrowing journey into the lives of four high school buddies who collide with the local underworld where the chances of getting away unscathed are near zero. The Shotgun Rule is recommended to jolt you out of your current comfort zone and throw you into the world of explosive violence and danger that exists right around the corner.