Southern (Cali) Lit–Charlie Huston’s Six Bad Things

So I’m getting waxed at online poker as I type this–isn’t there some kind of human-rights commission that a brother can appeal to when he gets dealt three straight two-seven off-suits?–but here we go with another rambling book review. It starts, as all good book reviews do, with iTunes. Specifically, a podcast I heard on iTunes. Super-specifically, this podcast right here, from Marvel Comics and starring writer Charlie Huston. Huston’s writing the revival of Moon Knight, who was created in the 1980s as a goofy-yet-cool Batman knockoff. “Goofy” because even though he’s supposed to be this crusader of the night, he prowls the rooftops wearing all white. (After Labor Day, even.) Cool because he’s got a backstory where he has multiple secret identities, and depending on the writer, sometimes those secret identities don’t even know the other exists.

So anyway, Huston pitched a good game on this podcast, and I checked out his three Moon Knight issues (you should too–damn good stuff.) Then I went looking for his writing that didn’t have any pictures–you know, novels. (As he laughed in an email to me afterward, “Moon Knight; it’s like the cheap crack I use to reel people into the upmarket stuff.”) I picked up Six Bad Things, which I didn’t realize until later was the second book in a trilogy. Getting the second book first wasn’t quite as dumb as seeing Empire Strikes Back first, or as incomprehensible as seeing Two Towers first, but nonetheless I’ve kinda spoiled the first book, Caught Stealing, for myself.

It’s an acceptable loss. Six Bad Things is a hell of a book, and much of it reminds me of nothing so much as the vastly underrated flick True Romance. Basic plot: Hank Thompson is hiding out in Baja California. Why, we don’t know–unless we read Caught Stealing, of course–but the fact that people with strange accents are starting to come around Hank’s remote village gets Hank a mite nervous. And when Hank has to go on the run–taking the ill-gotten gains from the first novel with him–well, he kicks off a Jack Bauer/John Constantine-esque wave of death and destruction that sluices around him but manages to drown pretty much everyone near him.

Huston’s got a gift for composing the kinds of violent, intricate set pieces that characterized the aforementioned True Romance and other, similar flicks. One small mistake–a missed turn, a missed phone call–leads to problem upon problem, and pretty soon the characters are like that guy on Craigslist who started with a paperclip and ended up with a house–if the house was, you know, full of bloodlusting, crack-jacked Mexicans or something. Scenes in Hank’s childhood subdivision and a Vegas stripper’s rented house escalate so quickly and so violently (both for the reader and for the characters) that you find yourself stunned at how even the most innocent of situations can, with the wrong individuals involved, turn tragic in a moment’s time.

I hate it when plots are spoiled for me, so I won’t give you any more details than I already have. Suffice it to say that Huston’s book gets the highest possible recommendation from me. You won’t learn anything new about the human condition–but you’ll learn many new ways it can get snuffed out.

Check out Huston’s website–www.pulpnoir.com–for occasional musings, too, and buy his books–guys like him need to be encouraged. Preferably from a distance, but still.

Jay

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