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The Shotgun Rule: A Novelby Charlie Huston
Synopses & Reviews
The first stand-alone thriller by critically acclaimed author Charlie Huston, The Shotgun Rule is a raw tale of four teenage friends who go looking for a little trouble — and find it.
Blood spilled on the asphalt of this town long years gone has left a stain, and it's spreading.
Not that a thing like that matters to teenagers like George, Hector, Paul, and Andy. It's summer 1983 in a northern California suburb, and these working-class kids have been killing time the usual ways: ducking their parents, tinkering with their bikes, and racing around town getting high and boosting their neighbors' meds. Just another typical summer break in the burbs. Till Andy's bike is stolen by the town's legendary petty hoods, the Arroyo brothers. When the boys break into the Arroyos' place in search of the bike, they stumble across the brothers' private industry: a crank lab. Being the kind of kids who rarely know better, they do what comes naturally: they take a stash of crank to sell for quick cash. But doing so they unleash hidden rivalries and crimes, and the dark and secret past of their town and their families.
The spreading stain is drawing local drug lords, crooked cops, hard-riding bikers, and the brutal history of the boys' fathers in its wake.
"One of the crime genre's rising stars, Huston (Six Bad Things) delivers a stunning, darkly comic coming-of-age novel, set in the summer of 1983 in an unnamed Northern California town. Four teenage boys, out of school and experimenting with drugs, booze and sex, find trouble fast when they break into the home of the notorious Arroyo brothers to retrieve a stolen bicycle. In the process, they stumble on the Arroyo family's main operation, a meth lab. In a classic moment of nave bravado, they steal part of the stash, setting off a downward spiral of events that will reopen the door to the town's dark past, when an earlier generation of criminals, including one of the boy's fathers, controlled the streets. Huston's natural gift for dialogue shines as he recreates the language of teenage males, in all its crude and often hilarious glory. Most importantly, Huston has the courage to both unsettle and entertain the reader, and his story resonates long after its disturbing final scenes. Author tour. (Aug.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Charlie Huston's disturbing sixth novel is further proof that he's one of the most original crime novelists at work today. Huston, who's 40, grew up in California, took a shot at acting in New York, wound up bartending and wrote a novel in his spare time. He knew nothing of the publishing world, so his manuscript gathered dust until a friend showed it to an agent. The novel began a trilogy ('Caught... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Stealing,' 'Six Bad Things' and 'A Dangerous Man') that was nominated for an Edgar Award (for 'Six Bad Things') and won much praise from other writers, but not legions of readers. He also wrote two droll novels, 'Already Dead' and 'No Dominion,' about a Manhattan private eye who's a vampire. These five books are wildly inventive neo-noir that combines slapstick with dead-on dialogue and unflinching realism. Now comes 'The Shotgun Rule,' a dark but brilliant portrait of the way many teenage boys live in America — or, to be precise, how they lived in California in 1983, when Huston himself was 17. It isn't a pretty story, and some of its violence is all but unreadable, but the novel is utterly persuasive. There isn't a false word in it. For me, however, it started slowly. Huston devotes 40-odd pages to introducing his four teenagers, and kids who spend their time getting high, nagging at each other with inane profanity and listening to heavy metal bands are not urgent concerns of mine. Still, good writing is good writing, and amid this teen wasteland, distinct characters emerge, along with a plot that promises fireworks. The boys are Hector, Paul, George and Andy. Hector is Hispanic, sports a mohawk and carries a bicycle chain for fights. Paul has a nasty temper and intends to join the Army the day he reaches 18. George is tough but relatively sensible. Andy is George's 15-year-old kid brother and, of all things, highly intelligent, so naturally he is considered weird and is picked on endlessly. The plot portrays the horrors of drug culture. At the outset, a boy named Timo Arroyo steals Andy's bike. The four friends break into the house Timo shares with his thuggish older brothers and discover a crank lab. They steal a half-kilo and flee. The theft arouses the wrath of a psychotic drug dealer called Geezer, who wants his crank back, lest he run afoul of the ex-bikers who are his overlords in Oakland. As the boys stumble deeper and deeper into trouble, Huston introduces two of their fathers. Paul's is an alcoholic teacher who's heartbroken that he can no longer connect with his son, who despises him. Andy and George's father works construction, but back in the day was himself a dealer and a dangerous dude. His sons, who don't know about his past, laugh at his platitudes about working hard and obeying the law. They're more impressed by their Aunt Amy, an ex-hippie who's now a nurse and has a cottage industry selling pills she steals from her hospital. She too is caught up in the emerging chaos. In the novel's chilling climax, the psychotic drug dealer seizes three of the boys and is prepared to torture and kill them until he gets his crank. This long scene is an exercise in terror. You read, and then you look away for a while. Some of the captives are hurt badly, and we have come to care enough about our wayward teenagers to suffer along with them. The ending is bloody, but Huston offers glimmers of hope amid the carnage. 'The Shotgun Rule' is not literary in any conventional sense, but it has a purity, a raw honesty, that often led me to make literary connections. It's a coming-of-age novel, like 'The Catcher in the Rye,' although if these kids ever made their way to Pencey Prep, they'd leave the place in ruins. I thought too of the opening lines of Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl.' No one would call these boys the best minds of their generation, but like Ginsberg's angel-headed hipsters, they are being destroyed by madness, by their own and their parents' ignorance, and by a culture that offers them little sustenance besides illegal drugs, video games, petty crime and mindless music. Huston tells his story with an admirable detachment, neither condemning nor romanticizing his lost generation. Only in his dedication does he drop his guard: To the kids who don't know any better. The ones with attitude problems. What the hell are they thinking? Man, believe me, they aren't. That's the point. We never do. With that 'we,' Huston embraces the past he survived and has now recaptured. If he's lucky, 'The Shotgun Rule' will become a cult favorite among young people who recognize its truth. Of course, it could also appeal to readers of all ages who value a dispassionate look at how millions come of age in this strange and unforgiving land of ours." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"If you don't know this perfervid writer of thrillers (Caught Stealing) and comic books (Moon Knight), this stand-alone novel is a great place to start....The Shotgun Rule is wise about the way boys grow into men, and roots its violence in understandable emotion. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"Anyone not acquainted with Charlie Huston's blistering, unputdownable novels will want to tie their sneakers nice and tight before starting The Shotgun Rule, or they are apt to be blasted clean out of them." Stephen King
"[A] dark but brilliant portrait of the way many teenage boys live in America....The Shotgun Rule is not literary in any conventional sense, but it has a purity, a raw honesty, that often led me to make literary connections." Patrick Anderson, The Washington Post Book World
"Huston has developed a reputation for his own brand of noir fiction, by turns side-splittingly funny and gruesomely violent and repugnant....Parents who refuse to think about the world in which their children live will be repulsed by this book. Others might just find a glimmer of hope by its end." Rocky Mountain News
"From a sharp pitch, staccato dialogue and volatile action, durable characters and an intricate plot emerge, demonstrating Huston can still deliver the expected thriller goods." Paste Magazine
"If your tolerance for violence, occasional sadism and bratty teens is sturdy enough, the talented Mr. Huston will keep you turning pages." Kirkus Reviews
"The fast-unfolding plot's tension springs from elements both expected...and surprising....Huston demonstrates a great feel for characters on the cusp of maturity — which helps readers connect with their adolescent aches even when they're being a pain." Booklist
About the Author
Charlie Huston is the author of the Henry Thompson Trilogy: Caught Stealing, Six Bad Things (an Edgar Award nominee), and A Dangerous Man, as well as the Joe Pitt novels: Already Dead and No Dominion. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, the actress Virginia Louise Smith. Visit him at www.pulpnoir.com.
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