Thereís hard-boiled fiction, and then there are novels by Charlie Huston. Hustonís books are so tough, bloody and undeniably sad that you canít even call them hard-boiled. Theyíre petrified - but in the best possible sense of the word.
Hustonís aggressive, bruising style is on full display in the final chapter of his Henry Thompson trilogy, A Dangerous Man.Ē The book follows Caught Stealing and Six Bad Things in chronicling the downward spiral of Henry, a once-promising baseball player who now toils as a hit man for a ruthless Russian gangster.
Though I havenít read Six Bad Things, I enjoyed Caught Stealing, which showed how Henry went from being a regular guy to a stone-cold killer. In A Dangerous Man, his steely resolve is denting. He canít kill with the cold ease that he used to. And heís addicted to painkillers, which help him cope with
the crimes he has committed. Henryís problems have caused his boss, David, to doubt his usefulness. Since David has threatened to kill Henryís parents should Henry no longer become useful, Davidís disappointment in Henry is alarming.
David allows Henry a chance to redeem himself by acting as a bodyguard to Miguel Arenas, an up-and-coming baseball player with a lot of talent and a major gambling problem. As Henry gets closer to Miguel, he looks for a way to untangle the web he
is caught in.
In Henry Thompson, Huston has created a man who is rough, ruthless yet undeniably sympathetic. We
are treated to scene after scene of him cracking skulls, slitting throats and hitting below the belt, but Henry is never a simple thug. Huston always shows us the glimpse of the man he might have been, through his love for his parents and his pain over this monster heís become.
In A Dangerous Man, we constantly root for Henry to escape his life of crime. We want him to be happy. Of course, he canít be. Itís the kind of story that canít end well. But Huston isnít relentlessly bleak. Thereís humor
here, although itís of the darker variety, and thereís even a hint of hope, of redemption.
Thatís why, despite the darkness and pain within, A Dangerous Man is compulsively readable. It will bruise and batter you, but itís a good kind of pain.