HELL AND GONE by Duane Swierczynski

Book Quote:

“There was no such thing as an escape-proof prison, because to sustain life inside the prison you need support from the outside.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (OCT 31, 2011)

Hell and Gone, another nail-biting read from author Duane Swierczynski is the second volume in the Charlie Hardie Trilogy. In part one, Fun and Games middle-aged Charlie Hardie leads a driftless life as a house-sitter moving continually from gig to gig. Hardie hails from Philadelphia but left his wife and child after a shootout he blames on himself, and which caused the death of his long-time friend. Hardie reasons that his family is safer without him and never recovering from the guilt and depression of a case that went horribly wrong, Hardie finds it easier to take on the low-level stress of house-sitting gig. In Fun and Games, Hardie arrives in L.A. to housesit the remote Hollywood Hills home of an affluent composer. The house is supposed to be empty, but as it turns out troubled Hollywood starlet Lane Madden has taken refuge inside the home and claims that Hollywood star whackers want her dead. Hardie, while skeptical at first, discovers the hard way that Lane is telling the truth.

Part 2—Hell and Gone picks up where Fun and Games left off. Hardie, once more, has pissed off the wrong people. After being drugged and offered the choice of being recruited as a member of “The Accident People,” Hardie, who naturally has refused to be part of the team, is sent for permanent incarceration in the secret underground facility known as Site 7734. Hardie, however, isn’t a prisoner. Supposedly he’s the new warden, and he answers to the nebulous Prisonmaster:

“You call it in, the Prisonmaster has it sent down. He also controls the environmentals—-heat, cooling, water temperature. Without a warden, the Prisonmaster’s been just sending down the bare minimums, enough to keep the facility running. Even environmental requests were ignored.”

“So you want me to talk to this Prisonmaster guy and ask him to turn up the heat?”?

“If you would,” Yankee said with a smile that was meant to be charming but came off as slightly overeager, bordering on homicidal. “And there’s also the food situation.”

At Site 7734, paranoia reigns, and for this reader the hierarchal benefits of being the warden or one of the psychotic guards differs only slightly from being one of the prisoners. While the prisoners are “crammed into poorly lit rusty cages,” everyone lives nervously in poor living conditions. Both sets of people are given the same bland diet; both sets of people are essentially prisoners. The big difference is who gets to wield the batons.

By creating Site 7734, Swierczynski involves the reader in his psychological experiment. We are along for the ride as Hardie, much the worse for wear, tries to figure out and then game the system. Should he accept the role of warden and try to bring some sanity to the horrendously inhuman system? Can he relieve the suffering of a handful of anonymous prisoners who are subjected to brutal dehumanizing treatment on a daily basis? Hardie never was much of a team player:

“Hardie was a born loner. Not only did he not play well with others, he couldn’t fucking stand others.”

Site 7734 is rigged with various “death mechanisms” so that the successful escape of one resident will result in the deaths of those who remain behind. In an incarcerated-lord-of-the-flies scenario, Hardie tries to figure out just what is going on in this hellish dungeon, and the reader also tries to solve the puzzle as jail breaks, underhand deals, back-stabbing and betrayals guarantee that the day-to-day life in Site 7734 will be as evil, disruptive and as paranoid as possible.

While Fun and Games was non-stop action, a roller-coaster ride of explosions, chases and high-tech weaponry, Hell and Gone offers psychological suspense. My first reaction to the book was a shade of disappointment at the novel’s complete change of pace, but after mulling it over and as the story develops, I have nothing but respect for Swierczynski. He brings the action and motion of Fun and Games to a screeching halt and then digs in for long-term head games in Hell and Gone. Then there’s the issue of believability. Given the recent headlines,  secret Hollywood Star Whackers, in Fun and Games Swierczynski stretches the possibilities only marginally. But in Hell and Gone, “The Accident People” are clearly much more powerful than previously imagined, and while the power-brokers of Fun and Games could, theoretically be publicity agents and studio heads on a bloody, maniacal power trip, in this sequel, it’s clear that those who pull the strings can even fuck with the FBI. While Fun and Games Swierczynski offers an action thriller, in Hell and Gone, Swierczynski stretches genre seamlessly and cleverly so by the end of the novel, elements of science fiction appear.

The Third and final novel: Point and Shoot is scheduled for publication in 2012. It’s almost cruel to make us wait….

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 3 readers
PUBLISHER: Mulholland Books; Original edition (October 31, 2011)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Official blog for Duane Swierczynski
EXTRAS: Mulholland books page on Hell and Gone
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


Charlie Hardie trilogy:

October 31, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Psychological Suspense, Speculative (Beyond Reality), Thriller/Spy/Caper

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