At the conclusion of FUN & GAMES Charlie Hardie, a professional housesitter, was seriously injured and being kidnapped in an ambulance. HELL & GONE, the second installment of Duane Swierczynski's trilogy finds Charlie Hardie mostly recovered and in a seemingly inescapable, underground prison. However, instead of being an inmate, he's the warden. The prison guards almost equal the inmates in number, the inmates who are "the most dangerous criminals in the world." The longer Charlie is in the prison, the more he wonders how dangerous these criminals truly are, but it's this curiosity that leads Charlie into trouble, trouble that may mean bad things for his family.
Pete Larkin returns as the narrator of Charlie Hardie's new caper, and that means only good things for HELL & GONE. Larkin seems to share a kindred spirit with Hardy, a spirit that brings a rare richness to the listening experience. Swierczynski has written a unique novel blending the comic book action hero with noir and thriller and just a twist of mystery to shake things up. Larkin keeps pace at every turn, convincingly expressing disbelief at the absurd, fury at the unjust, sarcasm at, well, the world.
All the strengths of FUN & GAMES are present in HELL & GONE without simply writing a formulaic sequel. Swierczynski brings innovative plotting, fresh characters and constant action. Larkin, for his part, gives voice to the world Swiercacynski has created. The pair have produced a story experience unlike any other.
I have the utmost respect for those writers who can coax me out of my reading comfort zone and entice me with a style I'd usually dismiss. There are elements of the absurd in HELL & GONE, but they've been written in such a way as to provide entertainment in the midst of considerable action and drama. The unquestionable devotion Hardie has for his family and remorse he carries for his former partner build a credible Everyman. And we can't help but want to cheer him on to victory.
It remains to be see if Hardie will pull a complete victory out of his hat. We'll have to wait for the final part of Swierczynski's trilogy. The ultimate winners, however, are the readers and listeners. As an audio performance, this is the "perfect storm": a great story partnered with the perfect narrator, produced flawlessly. These audiobooks will top my favorites list for 2011.
HELL & GONE is available today from Mulholland Books in trade paper (ISBN: 978-0316133296) and from Hachette Audio in downloadable mp3 (ISBN: 978-1611139310).