By Matthew E. Milliken
June 30, 2016
More than 16 years ago, novelist Colin Harrison published a gritty crime thriller called Afterburn. I read it not long after its release, and while a lot of the details have faded with time, I remember its brutality. One of the main characters is tortured by mobsters eager to recover some missing money; although at least one character in the book arrives at a happy ending of sorts, most of the others experience grievous and permanent harm along the way.
I thought of Afterburn recently while reading Caught Stealing, a 2004 Charlie Huston novel that shares part of the earlier book’s premise, along with its penchant for putting characters through the grinder. Moreover, the volumes have almost the same setting — Manhattan at the close of the 20th century, although Harrison’s book takes place in 1999 while Huston’s spans Sept. 22 through Oct. 1, 2000.
Huston’s protagonist is Hank Thompson, a 30-something (or nearly so) alcoholic bartender. He inadvertently gets caught up in a vicious caper when his neighbor asks him to take care of his cat, Bud, while he goes to visit his terminally ill father.
The neighbor is named Russ Miner, and he’s got a secret: Although his father is dying, he’s actually skipping town in an attempt to avoid cutting his partners-in-crime in on the $4.5 million dollars taken in a string of small-town bank robberies around the country — money which they trusted him to store until the heat had cooled a bit.