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Author Recommendation: Charlie Huston

October 27, 2010

When I first got my Kindle last year (you know — before it was cool…), I downloaded all the free Kindle books I could find. This primarily meant public domain classics, but not in all cases. With the release of what was, at the time, the “Kindle 2,” some authors (or perhaps their publishers) — probably anticipating a rush of new potential readers like myself, temporarily made some of their books available completely free. 

One novel that was freely available at that time was Caught Stealing, by Charlie Huston. Had no idea who he was, no idea what it was about, but you couldn’t beat the price. 

Caught Stealing is the first novel in a trilogy of books about Hank Thompson, an unlucky guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once I got around to reading Caught Stealing, I found it nearly impossible to tear myself away. Huston’s style is fast-paced, evocative, and filled with dark humor.

He also utilizes a stylistic way of writing dialogue which I first encountered in Cry, the Beloved Country. Instead of using quotation marks and a lot of “he saids,” he starts a paragraph with a dash to indicate dialogue, and does not interrupt with “he said” or “she said.” He doesn’t even tell you who is speaking; instead, you’re left to determine that from the context (most likely the most recent person mentioned), or the character’s manner of speaking.

This takes a little getting used to, after being trained to expect our friends the smartquotes to indicate dialogue, but Huston is masterful with dialogue, creating distinct voices and speech patterns for each of his characters so that I never get lost as to who is speaking. I think the lack of quotation marks also makes the books faster reads, as the eye can just flow over the page without the visual compartmentalization of speech from narrative. The dash allows the eye to keep moving the way it wants to — left-to-right — instead of being a visual barrier and stopping you up for a moment. You may think I’m overintellectualizing, but have a read of a book in the “dashes dialogue” style and see if you don’t feel a difference in the pacing of the read. 

So why isn’t this a review for Caught Stealing? Well, because after I was done reading that book, I immediately felt compelled to buy and read its sequel, Six Bad Things. Followed by its sequel — and the story’s conclusion — A Dangerous Man

And then I found out that Huston had written a pulp noir about a vampire detective named Joe Pitt, and so I picked up the first in that series, Already Dead, followed by No Dominion, Half the Blood of Brooklyn, Every Last Drop, and finally My Dead Body.[1]

I have not been able to stop myself in between books long enough to write a review of any one of them — as such, a blanket endorsement of Huston as an author will have to serve. If you’re looking for a unique voice and a tremendous storyteller, get Huston’s books, whether in print or as an ebook. His writing is violent and unflinching, sometimes depressing, and consistently funny. 

None of his books are currently free, but I’ve recommended his books to several friends and none have yet been disappointed — nor able to put them down. Check him out. 

  1. There’s probably a point I could make about how taking a $10 hit early on earned Huston $70 in book purchases I wouldn’t have otherwise made, but meh. At this point content producers either get it or they don’t; some blog post from some guy isn’t going to shake them awake.

From → reviews, writing

  1. I just read Caught Stealing based on your recommendation, and I agree entirely. Besides the dashes, I thought its being written mostly in present tense worked really well too. That style often comes across as self-consciously “literary,” but in this case it worked really well at adding to the sense of urgency.

    Anyway, it’s a really enjoyable book, and I’m going to pick up the next two as well. Thanks for pointing it out.

  2. I picked up “Already Dead” per your recommendation awhile back (I believe it was free at the time). The writing style threw me off a bit at first; I only read the first chapter or two though for whatever reason. I’m intrigued to go back and finish it, once I get through a couple I’m in the middle of. One thing about the Kindle is I have no problem reading four or five books at once; not sure if that’s a good or bad thing 😛

    • dorkmanscott permalink

      I actually appreciate my Kindle in large part for the opposite reason — it helps me focus on one book at a time. Since I’ve always got my Kindle (or a device with the Kindle app on it) I can always pick up whatever book I’m working on and continue where I left off. My problem with physical books was that I’d always be forgetting to bring whatever I was reading with me and end up reading whatever was at hand, leading to having multiple books going at once.

      But to each his own. 😉 The thing about all his books (at least that I’ve read) is a complete lack of chapter divisions, which means it’s both hard to stop and hard to pick up again. But very worth it, IMO.

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