Six Bad Things

At the end of Caught Stealing (2004), Charlie Huston's first Hank Thompson novel, the anti-hero flees New York with $4 million belonging to the Russian mafia. Hank then lives in relative comfort in a remote Mexican village with his cat until the son of one of the Russians accidentally finds him. The most wanted man in America because of killings from the earlier dark adventure, Hank returns home to California only to endanger the lives of his parents and several friends before spreading his chaos to Las Vegas.

Hank is an extreme example of Alfred Hitchcock's wrong-man protagonists. In Caught Stealing, he is a bartender whose agreement to cat-sit for a friend tosses him into turmoil and makes him a killer against his will. While most writers and filmmakers would allow such a Job-like figure to escape his dreadful fate eventually, Huston, a former actor and bartender, keeps pouring on the misery. It is hard to imagine any other thrillers being this hard-boiled and relentlessly violent.

This is not to suggest, however, that Six Bad Things, whose title refers to Hank's tattoos of guilt, is not fun, as when Huston satirizes the triviality of the media by having CNN conduct a poll of Americans’ attitudes toward Hank. While bad things happen to both good and bad people and intense emotions are elicited, the exhilarating pace never lets up. Other writers might tell themselves a pause is deserved or to spare this poor soul or that one, but Huston keeps charging ahead, creating a mythic level of overkill that becomes strangely more human and moving as a result. The world is this randomly dangerous, Huston suggests. And the writing, which verges on stream of consciousness at times, is consistently brilliant, resembling a dizzyingly blend of Jim Thompson and Robert Stone.