Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston, or transformation to a seriel killer

Caught Stealing
Recommended for: Tarantino fans
Read on March 26, 2013, read count: one and a half, give or take, because i skimmed some and re-read other parts
★  ★  ★

An explosive read that demands a soundtrack.…

Here we go!

Henry–Hank, to his friends–is just chilling in New York City, working his bartender gig, working his way up at the bar, and slowly pickling his liver. Hank is a genuinely nice guy: he gets along with his neighbors, does the odd job for the super, calls his California parents regularly, lends money to his friends and even–and this is astonishing–doesn’t ask for it back.

I’ve been caught stealing
once when I was 5
I enjoy stealing
It’s just as simple as that
Well, it’s just a simple fact.
When I want something, man
I don’t want to pay for it.

Hank stole for a brief period in his youth, after a tragic accident ruined his golden boy status. Now he’s just a guy getting by. All that changes after neighbor Russ prevails upon Hank to watch his cat while Russ goes back to Minnesota to visit his dying father. Hank reluctantly agrees, becomes temporary owner of Bud, and everything starts to shift into overdrive.

I walk right through the door
And I walk right through the door.
Hey all right! If I get by, it’s mine.
Mine all mine!

Strangely, it’s not long after that a couple of Russian-like thugs beat Hank nearly senseless. Nearly, because he actually finishes the “senseless” part of it by drinking away the night after the thugs take off. He wakes up peeing blood, but knows from experience that his kidney is probably just bruised. Luckily, he has a doctor’s appointment scheduled (his feet are just killing him), so when he passes out from shock, the doctor quickly gets him to the hospital and to surgery. Shortly after, he’s minus one kidney and heading home, vowing to change his life–no more booze, no more bartending. Although it’s hard to go cold-turkey, so he calls his dealer to get a little grass to smooth the transition. Even though the kidney-shaped hole in his side is just killing him, he heads out to do his laundry. Being the nice guy that he is, decides to toss in the cat’s blanket as well (see how nice he is?).

My girl, she’s one too.
She’ll go and get her a skirt
Stick it under her shirt.
She grabbed a razor for me
And she did it just like that.
When she wants something,
She don’t want to pay for it.

Returning from the laundromat, he sees the thugs that beat him having a pizza across the street from his place. Sliding up the stairs, he then notes strangers outside his apartment door. Perhaps they are connected? His missing kidney urges him on. He really wants to call the police, but he’s got that big bag of dope sitting on his table, so he employs skills developed as a teenage thief to sneak down the fire escape and into his apartment. Stuff happens, and if you aren’t in the mood for violence, you need to put the book down right now because it’s about to get physical. For me, the level of casual violence and death was a detractor.

She’ll walk right through the door
Walk right through the door.
Hey all right! If I get by, it’s mine.
Mine all mine!

What follows is pretty much The Fugitive only with an alcoholic almost-baseball star instead of a doctor, and with gangsters instead of marshals. But you get the idea. I have to applaud Huston, he actually makes the plot seem plausible, with a protagonist that essentially wants to do right, only right isn’t very clear when the bad guys change the rules all the time. Still, Hank gamely keeps trying, even when the curveballs come fast and loose.

We sat around the pile
We sat and laughed
We sat and laughed and
Waved it into the air!
And we did it just like that
When we want something,
We don’t want to pay for it.

Huston has a gift for writing, no doubt. But ultimately, the book feels like a movie script for a wry, post-modern heist. Crystal clear visuals. Fast paced. Characters out of casting 101, even with their oh-so-clever quirkiness (Russians in track suits! Black guys wearing cowboy gear!) A protagonist trying to save his skin–and a cat–gets a pass for almost any behavior. Hell, I’d probably even watch that movie. But I missed Huston’s subtle humor, his pokes at cultural mores, his vivid sense of place and character–everything I loved in the Joe Pitt books.

We walk right through the door
Walk right through the door
Hey, all right! If I get by, it’s mine,
Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine…

The best parts for me were the subway scenes, and Hank’s clever use of New York culture. But honestly, the song is a lot more fun.

In parting, a couple of quotes with trademark Hudson humor:

“There’s one beer left and it keeps staring at me. I get tired of trying not to stare back so I put it in the john where I won’t see it or hear it.”

“They cram into the elevator, making cracks in French about drunk Americans. Fucking French classes. I wish I’d taken Spanish.”

Three (stolen) stars, not four, because I have a decent anti-theft system.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Thriller and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.