First line: "It's a bad house."
Teens George, Paul, Hector and Andy make an odd little gang, but for the most part they are good kids. Each has his oddities: Andy is George's brainy little brother. He's skipped several grades so that he's now at the same level as George and his pals. Paul has a secret at home that makes staying away the most appealing option.
When Andy's bike is stolen by the youngest of the infamous Arroyo brothers, the boys set off to retrieve the stolen property. The boys find Andy's bike, but they also find something they weren't expecting, a crank lab. The know better than to mess with the drugs, but boys being boys, Paul decides taking some of the meth is worth the risk. He pictures a new car procured with the money he could make from selling the drugs.
However, the drugs don't result in a car for Paul. Instead, a level of trouble the teens never fathomed invades their lives, unleashing their secrets as well as the secrets of the generation that preceded them.
Read by Charlie Thurston, the audiobook version of The Shotgun Rule brings out the stark contrast between the teens' youth and naivete and the gravity of the danger they find themselves in. Thurston builds up the immaturity and lack of sophistication through his light-hearted treatment of Huston's humorous scenes with the boys, including Andy's repeated references of himself as "such a dildo" and an episode about "the shotgun rule" that ends with Paul saying, "Shotgun. It's a complicated issue." Their troubles are minor and relatively insignificant.
Then when the truly serious and deadly circumstances invade the Eden of these boys' lives, the terror and pain Thurston voices is intensified. This isn't just a scary situation, it's the destruction of youth's innocence.
But the effect isn't just in the young characters, Thurston is also able to elicit that intense fear from George and Andy's mother, as well as the helplessness of their father. His portrayal of Paul's father is eerily disturbing. Thurston also does a fine job juggling the Hispanic dialect with the Southern California accent.
But his crowning performance may very well be that of the obese, vocabulary-building drug boss, Geezer. His self-assuring air, his psychopathic tendencies, his need to control everything and everyone around him comes through in a powerful, yet also humorous portrayal.
Charlie Huston is a sure bet for a complex story that dwells in the gray shadows of life. He's a sure bet for humor amid the horror. Thurston has tapped into that magic to make the shivers stronger, the goosebumps higher and the laughs deeper.
The only minor distraction for me was Thurston's tendency to emphasize hard consonant sounds at the end of words, especially sounds like "t" and "p." Those stand out to me and can often pull me from the story for a temporary beat. But the overall strength of the recording is enough to fade my single listening quirk into the background.
The Shotgun Rule is now available on unabridged audio (ISBN: 978-1482948127) from Blackstone Audio. The paperback version (ISBN: 978-0345481368) of The Shotgun Rule is still available from Ballantine Books.