Thursday, April 14, 2016
Review: "The Shotgun Rule" by Charlie Huston
Not one month ago, I reviewed Scott Frank’s debut novel Shaker, and said that it was the most purely entertaining novel I have read in quite a while. That I have read an equally entertaining and unique crime thriller like Charlie Huston’s The Shotgun Rule, I consider myself very lucky. It is sometimes hard to review these books, because I tend to keep repeating myself when I say how good they usually are, but I will do my best. With a glowing recommendation from Stephen King, who came to mind while reading this, this book feels like a version of his novella The Body if it was written by an urban Joe R. Lansdale. It is a bleak coming of age story about four friends whose innocent fun (if you can call drugs and drinking innocent fun) turns dark and violent when a simple mission to retrieve stolen property leads them down the rabbit hole of murder and buried family secrets. One of Huston’s best talents is his ear for dialogue. This story takes place in the early 80’s, and these kids, equal parts naïve and overly confident all seem realistic and three dimensional even as secrets are uncovered that take the story into fantastical places. Along with the setting of Northern California, which, along with subject matter, kept reminding me Ryan Gattis’ brilliant 2015 All Involved, you get a bracing, breakneck narrative that goes to some very dark, unexpected places. The four friends at the center of this novel are brothers Andy and George, their loudmouth friend Paul, and aspiring punk rocker Hector. Each has a base affection for one another, but you can tell their relationship is one based on pure convenience. So when Andy’s bike is stolen by a young Mexican hood, they all band together in an attempt to get it back, an action that not only puts them in the crosshairs of the young hoods two scary older brothers, but also bags them a large stash of meth and some cash. Over the next two days, the two brothers are arrested, and as Paul, the one who stole the drugs tries to sell it off, it not only drags him and his friends into this maelstrom of violence but also his unstable dad and Andy’s and George’s as well, who has hid his past from his sons quite well until the fateful night that they are in danger. It is quite easy to compare this to The Body: Andy is Gordy, George is Chris, his wiser counterpart, Paul is Teddy, the loose cannon with father issues, and Hector is Vern, the wild card of the story, and Geezer, an old fat man with criminal pull, is a much scarier version of Ace Merrill. But the dark sense of humor and the overall despair of the book sets it apart, especially from it’s exciting and unexpected climax to its sad denouement, where things are simply too broken to fix and nothing was going to stop it from happening.