I try to avoid any types of spoilers when I do a book review, but sometimes that’s just not possible. Like when you’re reviewing the second book in a three part trilogy and the action picks up right where the first one left off. That’s the case with writer Duane Swierczynski’s latest crime novel, “Hell & Gone” and I’m about to review that book. So consider this a spoiler warning. In fact, if you haven’t read “Fun & Games,” the first book in Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardie trilogy, stop what you’re doing and go read it right now. You won’t regret it. Don’t worry we’ll wait . . .
Ok, everybody ready? Just in case one last big SPOILER WARNING!!!!!!
All right then, away we go! When we last left ex-Philadelphia Police consultant and tough guy extraordinaire Charlie Hardie he had saved the host of an “America’s Most Wanted” style program from a group of incredibly stealthy assassins dubbed the “Accident People” for their knack for making their crimes looks like accidents. As it turns out though the “Accident People” are just foot soldiers for a large and very powerful organization, an organization that’s not very happy with Charlie Hardie.
“Fun & Games” ends with Hardie falling into this organization’s custody and in “Hell & Gone” they enact their vengeance upon Hardie by sending him to a strange, underground, ultra secure prison. Complicating things even further is the fact that upon his arrival at the prison Hardie discovers that he’s the facility’s new warden and if anybody escapes from the prison on his watch everyone inside will die.
So there’s a lot of stuff going on in “Hell & Gone” and all of it is pretty awesome. One of the most interesting things is the very nature of the prison itself is a mystery. Its true nature is revealed near the end of the novel and the revelation is a fun mix of science fiction, classic prison movie elements, conspiracy stories, and academia.
Another great thing is that Swierczynski uses the set up of the prison to reveal even more about his protagonist. We got to know and root for Charlie in “Fun & Games” and in “Hell & Gone” we get to know even more about his past and what makes him tick. We get to see how he holds up under a great amount of physical and mental oppression and best of all we get to see him fight back. That’s because Swierczynski know all the best prison stories involve jail breaks.
You also get to learn a lot more about another character who only played a minor role in “Fun & Games,” Hardie’s FBI contact Special Agent Deke Clark. Clark spends much of “Hell & Gone” searching for Hardie and dealing with the enigmatic and powerful forces behind his disappearance. Clark’s reactions are believable and he’s a very likeable character that you enjoy spending time with.
The supporting cast of “Hell & Gone” is also populated by several interesting new characters especially the inmates and guards of the prison Hardie is trapped in. All of them have intricate and interesting back stories that are revealed as the novel unfolds. I can’t confirm this but based on the character’s names and some of their stories it feels like Swierczynski includes some fun homages and Easter eggs to his fellow crime writers and some of their characters.
So reading “Hell & Gone” was a lot of fun. The only thing that seemed out of place was an opening scene that didn’t look it had any relevance to the larger plot, but towards the end of the novel Swierczynski comes back to it and weaves that scene into his larger story in a very compelling way.
In Summary “Hell & Gone” is the best kind of sequel, one that’s even better than the first chapter in the story. It’s pacing, action, and characters were all great. As a long time fan of Swierczynski’s work I think it’s his best novel to date.
So the bar is set pretty high for the third chapter in the Charlie Hardie trilogy, “Point and Shoot,” which arrives in March. Swierczynski gives the novel a hell of a set up with the final pages of “Hell & Gone” and even if it’s only half as good the previous novel’s it’s bound to be a lot of fun.