I have, at various points on the podcast, talked about my love of what I call “trashy” books — that is, quick reads that are like prose popcorn movies, fast-paced and filled with spectacle, if not exactly the most challenging of reads. I come, then, to share my newfound love for a trilogy of books so absolutely wonderful on those terms that I devoured each one in less than a day each. Whatnauts, prepare to meet Charlie Hardie.
Hardie is the hero at the center of three novels by Duane Swiercynski, a name you also might be familiar with if you listen to the podcast — his Black Mask from Archie’s Dark Circle Comics is a current favorite of both Jeff’s and mine. It was actually Black Hood (and my remembering that I also really enjoyed his Bloodshot from Valiant) that got me curious about checking out his prose work, with the ads for his latest novel Canary at the end of each issue convincing me to check it out. Yes, the cross-promotion worked, dammit.
More than that, though, Canary worked; “popcorn” is a good descriptor for the book, which feels like it’s ready for movie adaptation at any moment, being a very pop take on a gritty crime thriller that gets more ridiculous as it goes on. (I suspect there may be a Black Hood easter egg in there too at one point, but I might have just been reading into things.) It was enough to make me wonder if his earlier books — and, in particular, the Charlie Hardie trilogy from 2011 through 2012 — were just as much fun. I needn’t have worried; if anything, they’re even better.
The three books, Fun & Games, Hell & Gone and Point & Shoot, form one story, in ways that might not immediately seem apparent when you’re midway through the second book. I was going to write “one coherent story,” but it’s not, not really, and that’s one of the joys of the series: what starts as a high concept thriller becomes increasingly more over-the-top with each book. Hardie goes from wandering into an assassination attempt in the first novel to being held in a top secret prison for the world’s most dangerous people in the second, and by the beginning of the third — well, I won’t spoil that for you, because I literally laughed out loud when Swiercynski revealed what was going on there. Nonetheless, everything is an escalation in a way that’s endlessly entertaining, ridiculous and addictive.
The series leans into Swiercynski’s playfulness, pushing in and out of different genres with a confidence that’s just enough to bring you along with him as he flips the script and pulls in elements of The Prisoner, Captain America and Natural Born Killers as necessary. It’s something that is perfectly aware of how steeped in other people’s ideas it is, and rejoices in taking that even further by naming characters after movie directors to provide a deeper level of meta-textuality. (And, midway through the third book, a moment where a character points out that she’s really not named after the director you thought she was, because she doesn’t like his movies.)
I’m not a massive crime book reader — if it’s not Donald Westlake, I’m probably not there — so it’s probably that genre-fucking and playfulness that made the Hardie trilogy (and Canary, before it) so enjoyable to me. They’re fast, light reads, despite the horrible moments unfolding as part of the story, but goddamn if they’re not also some of the most fun I’ve had with prose in quite some time. For those who subscribe to the idea of summer reads, fun books or the power of pulp, you should search out the Charlie Hardie books. They’re great.