Tuesday, 15 January 2008
‘The Shotgun Rule’ – Charlie Huston (Ballantine Books)
I love reading fantasy and (sometimes) sci-fi so that is what this blog is all about, every so often though I break out of the old routine and go for something completely different. Having got a lot out of Charlie Huston’s ‘Joe Pitt’ novels (some of my favourite reads from last year) I was eager to see what his ‘crime fiction’ was like. My wish came true when a copy of ‘The Shotgun Rule’ came through the door on Friday night and I settled down to have a read…
‘The Shotgun Rule’ weighs in at a mere two hundred and forty eight pages but it wasn’t for this reason that I finished it off so quickly. You see, Huston doesn’t just write punchy ‘vampire gangster noir’ that takes no prisoners he also does the same thing for this ‘small town rites of passage’ novel. Paul, George, Hector and Andy are four teenagers spending their summer getting high and getting into trouble. Things kick off in a spectacular way when, trying to get Andy’s bike back, they break into the local hood’s house and find a lab set up to produce crystal meth. It’s the easiest thing in the world to steal a bag of meth but not so easy to deal with the consequences. One impulsive moment is going to set the underworld on fire and draw attention to secrets much closer to home…
‘The Shotgun Rule’ blew me away (no pun intended) in both it’s execution and content. The flashback/flash forward scenes were a little confusing to start off with but it all makes sense halfway through when the two strands seamlessly fit together. Apparently this has been optioned for a film and the technical devices involved in the structure of the novel make me wonder if this was on Huston’s mind when he wrote the book. The prose is stripped down, and sparse in tone, but this just makes every single word more effective in its job. Nothing is wasted and everything is there for a reason. I rattled my way through this book not even noticing what page I was on, the story is fast paced and gripping and I was left eager to turn the next page and see what happened. The ending came right out of left field and really surprised me with its abrupt violence. Looking back things seem a little more obvious but I guarantee they won’t if you’re reading this for the first time. I wouldn’t speculate on Huston’s childhood but all I’ll say is that he gets the four main characters (teenage hoodlums) spot on with what they say and do. What’s also interesting is the study of the capacity for innate violence in different people and how they come across as a result. It is a cliché but in this case the quiet ones are always the worst… The only thing that I felt could have been done better was the portrayal of Paul’s father. Allegations are hinted at but never really confirmed (a couple of sentences right at the very end don’t really work for me, it felt more like gossip rather than anything else). The uncertainty is good but I felt that Huston needed to come off the fence and just say it one way or the other.
Apart from this small point, ‘The Shotgun Rule’ is a great read and one that I would certainly recommend to any fan of Huston’s who has only read the ‘Joe Pitt’ books. I’m looking forward to reading more by Charlie Huston, whatever genre it’s in.
Nine out of Ten