Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book: Hell & Gone, by Duane Swierczynski (2011)

The second installment in any series – and especially a trilogy – is the bear. It’s the one that proves you’ve got a series, after all. At the same time, it is destined to be overshadowed by its brethren. The flashy, love-at-first-sight introduction. The satisfying denouement. But those misfit middle children are often my favorites. They tend to be darker, thornier, more interested in complication than resolution, all sharp corners and no smooth edges. For A Few Dollars More. The Godfather, Part II. The Road Warrior. Back to the Future Part II. Spider-Man 2. Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment. (Watch it again. There are nuances, people.)

Hell & Gone by Duane Swierczynski admirably carries on the tradition. It picks up the action exactly where Fun & Games breathlessly left off. Cop-turned-housesitter Charlie Hardie has run afoul of The Accident People, a consortium of killers who ply their trade in plain sight. He’s foiled one of their schemes but fallen into their clutches – which means coming to in a high-tech prison. Only Charlie’s not an inmate. He’s the warden, unable to trust either the guards or his charges.

Duane is his usual fiendishly inventive self. If anything the contained setting forces him to step up his game, the twists in abundance but still managing to catch you off-guard. The background of The Accident People is fleshed out and even more disturbing than what F&G hinted at. And the ending manages to be strangely moving while setting up what promises to be an utterly demented conclusion in Point & Shoot. (Duane recently announced that publication of P&S has been pushed to April 2013.) It’s another ferocious thrill ride that, more importantly, avoids being the literary equivalent of Highlander 2: The Quickening. Which is something none of us wanted.

Full disclosure: I’m thanked in the acknowledgements of H&G, one of several people on a list that includes Duran Duran front man Simon LeBon. Nothing I have accomplished personally impresses Rosemarie as much as that fact. Understandably so.

Here’s a Q&A on the Hardie books Duane was gracious enough to do with me.