I first discovered Duane Swierczynski’s series of thrillers featuring former Police Consultant turned house sitter Charlie Hardie like I do so many other great thrillers, on the digital pages of Jen’s Book Thought. Reading her reviews, and investigating the series further, two things stuck out to me. First, that the series had a Philly edge, with Swierczynski being a resident of my fair city, and his hard luck protagonist also a resident in exile. The second thing that stuck out was the genre blending nature of the series, which seemed to be a pretty straight thriller, but perhaps with a few science fiction touches to keep things interesting. So, now intrigued, it still took me a while to finally give the series a go. One of my goals this year was to be les focused on the big new release, and take a chance on the many series I have sitting on the backburner, untouched or never completed. So, with this in mind, I decided to take a swing at the three existing Charlie Hardie novels, listening to all three back to back. I’m really glad I did.
Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardy series is a smash mouth romp, taking the classic Lethal Weapon thriller and giving it a pulp fiction vibe. It’s a thriller that revels in being a thriller, taking it’s protagonist, the seemingly unkillable Charlie Hardy, throwing him into a life and death situation against a highly organized foe, and basically letting him get his ass kicked, stabbed, shot, electrocuted, drugged and blown up, until he figures out a way to stop the bad guy, or at least come as close as possible. In many ways, it felt like the Game of Thrones of the thriller world, where the givens of any fictional tale are totally thrown out the window, and while you are pretty sure Charlie isn’t going to die, you are never sure what the collateral damage will be. As a Philly boy, I loved the touches. There is a moment where Swierczynski makes a comment about Rocky, saying that he is the ultimate Philly hero, because he gives it his all, yet still loses. Hardie is the ultimate Philly good guy even beyond Yuengling being his favorite beer. He is morally questionable, willing to smash walls and break faces, yet not very likely to achieve his ultimate goals no matter how hard he really tries. While the ride may be uneven and extremely destructive, it is never boring.
Fun & Games by Duane Swierczynski (Charlie Hardie, Bk. 1)
Read by Pete Larkin
Length: 7 Hrs 37 Min
In Fun & Games, Charlie Hardie takes a house sitting gig, and is surprised when he finds a crazed Hollywood actress inside his client house, brandishing a mic stand as a weapon and accusing his of being one of “them.” Initially Charlie assumes that she is just some drugged out paranoid rich girl hiding out, but when the home is besieged by highly skilled operative, Hardie discovers her paranoia is rightly deserved. Swierczynski starts off the series with a gut punch, and keeps on swinging. He throws you right into the action, and allows you to discover the over the top plot in a surprisingly organic way. In almost any other thriller, the series of events would push the average reader’s suspension of disbelief to its breaking point, but somehow the author pulls it off, creating a stylistic bonanza for action fans.
Read by Pete Larkin
Length: 7 Hrs 29 Min
Hell & Gone finds Charlie Hardie captured by the secret organization he ran afoul of in Fun & Games, and stuck in a secret prison…. as the warden. Here Hardie becomes a player in a twisted game where the worse criminals in the world may not be what they seem, and he may need to make alliances with people he doesn’t trust in order to free himself from an inescapable prison. Hell & Gone may be one of the most twisted, bizarre and mind numbingly brilliant thrillers I have read in a while. Swierczynski creates a situation that flips the flipped head onto its head, and where every twist just creates the need for even more crazy twists. Hell & Gone was my favorite of the series, and a truly mind fuck of a thriller that redefines the dictionary that contains all the definitions. It’s funny and fresh and so much fun that I am really tempted to read it again.
Read by Pete Larking
Length: 6 Hrs 56 Min
After making a deal with the devil in order to protect his family, Charlie Hardie is trapped in space on an experimental satellite protecting his enemies secrets, when the person least expected shows up. Charlie must decide whether he should risk it all in order to put and end to the organization that has been making his life a living hell. Point & Shoot isn’t as focused as the first two novels, as Swierczynski attempts to pull together all the loose ends and subplots in order to conclude the trilogy in an acceptable manner. Despite this, the author manages to again take the readers to places they would never expect, and deliver brutal twists that will leave his readers bruised and suffering internal bleeding. The biggest upside to Point & Shoot was seeing a new side to Charlie as the battle becomes much more personal. Swierczynski affectively ends this story arc, while clearing the deck for potential editions in the future is he so chooses.
I was a bit hesitant with Pete Larkin at firs. He has a strong, movie star voice full of bravado. It’s a great voice for the series, able to capture the rhythms and dark humor of series giving it that stylistic flair that made the series so fun. Yet, in the beginning I felt Larkin’s voice may have been a bit too strong for the emotional fragile Hardier, and his initial female voices made me cringe a bit. Yet, as the series progressed, either Larkin really grew into the role, or I was so sucked into the tale that I overlooked things that may have bothered me in the beginning. By the end, Larkin became Charlie Hardier and the slew of oddball characters that surrounded him, and delivered a memorable performance worthy of this series.
I was really happy with my decision to listen to these three novels in one solid chunk. I think this allowed me to really appreciate the storytelling, viewing the series from an interesting perspective. Swierczynski managed to create three solid thrillers with an underline mythology and fresh style that pulled it all together. I would love to experience more Charlie Hardie, whether it be prequels about his days taking on the worse Philly crimes lords, or whatever future evil Hardie must tackle.