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The Philly Phenomenon Strikes Again: A Review of Hell and Gone

HELL & GONE is the second in a trilogy of Charlie Hardie novels by Duane Swierczynski. The first, FUN & GAMES, was relentlessly fast-paced, suspenseful and completely outrageous. Well, guess what? This second entry is all that and then some, as difficult as that might be to imagine.

Picking up immediately at the conclusion of that novel, ex-cop Hardie is carried away in an ambulance after being shot and nearly killed. He passes out en route, and awakes to find himself transported to a secret facility hidden deep underground.

This facility, he learns, is a high-security prison holding some of the most dangerous criminals on earth. What’s more, Hardie is the prison’s new warden. As he’s introduced to fellow guards and frightening inmates, he discovers there is no escaping this underground prison, not even for the staff.

Through his clandestine exchanges with some of the inmates, he senses that the so-called prisoners might really be the good guys, and the guards and the shadowy agency that runs the prison are the ones to be feared. So Hardie and the inmates attempt a desperate and dangerous escape. As the plan unfolds, however, revelations and complications pile up that threaten Hardie’s life at seemingly every moment.

The paranoia of a secret agency that really controls the country, hinted at in FUN & GAMES, is turned up to full blast here in the guise of “The Industry,” which operates the prison and heaven knows what all else. Whether you buy into it or not doesn’t matter, because Swierczysnki keeps the narrative and its endless stream of twists and surprises moving so fast, you hardly have time to dwell on the logic or possibility of a “Secret America.”

Not knowing who the real prisoners are, and hence, Hardie’s real allies, is the major appeal of this madcap novel. Swierczynski eventually straightens it all out for the reader, but not before tossing in a few more disclosures to keep us surprised right up to the very end.

Swierczynski’s style, as in the preceding work, is hip, slightly sarcastic, immersed in pop culture and amazingly effective for this wild-ass ride. Not many writers can run their characters through all kinds of unimaginable existential and physical hell, and keep you laughing all the way, but this Philly phenomenon does.

Can things get any more weird and strange for Charlie Hardie? Sure they can, as the final chapter of HELL & GONE implies. But we’re going to have to wait until March for POINT & SHOOT, the final book of the trilogy, to find out where Swierczynski’s explosive imagination takes us.

In the meantime, for those of you who didn’t get around to introducing yourselves to Charlie Hardie in the first novel, proceed immediately and then treat yourself to HELL & GONE. Be warned: Don’t expect anything near normal or calm. Swierczynski is expanding and creating new narrative boundaries with each of these books — and then gleefully blasting them all to … well, to hell and gone, as he shift gears, floors it, and leaves us coughing out the dust.

Originally posted on Re-posted with Permission.

Alan Cranis reviews books for