I've raved about Hodge's dark thrillers before in various places, and I'vetaken great pains to highlight his short story contributions to each andevery anthology I've reviewed. There is a reason, of course, and it isn'tthat he's a friend or that he pays me for every laudatory word.
The reason I love Brian Hodge's work is that the man can write! He canwrite and engage, and disturb, and shock, and sometimes plain amaze.
With Wild Horses, Hodge finally has his big breakout book, a lean and mean hardcover fromMorrow (the result of a reportedly hot auction among publishers) withconsiderable movie possibilities. Maybe now Hodge can reap the benefits ofthe talent many of us in the horror community have recognized from his Dell Abyss days and before.
Wild Horses is a lyrical road-tripthrough some sterile countryside, populated by as unforgettable a group of characters as have ever set foot in aCarl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard novel. Yes, I know, every other review hasmentioned those two comparisons, and I can't help but echo them. But Hodgegoes Hiaasen and Leonard one better by constantly shifting our expectations - will the novel be comic,tragic, philosophical, or just Tarantino-violent? Hodge is good enough tobring all those guns to bear, and more.
Allison Willoughby finally can't take her boyfriend Boyd's cheating,so she catches him in the act and damages his car. Not satisfied with thatlevel of revenge, she also dumps the contents of his laptop's hard driveonto floppies, erases the hard drive, then heads out of Vegas for what maybe a new life with her cousin back home in Mississippi, but may also be the ultimate revenge against the manwho abused her when she was little. She sends her belongings, including thedisks, ahead and hitchhikes out of Vegas.
Unfortunately, Boyd has been cheating on Allison with Madeline deCarlo, his pit boss at the Vegas casino where he deals blackjack, andwhere the two have been skimming from the table receipts - over $700,000worth so far, sent electronically to a bank in the Caymans. Guess where thebank codes were located? On Boyd's computer, of course. Boyd sets off after Allison, followed by Madelineand her secret accomplice, a mob reject thug and all around psycho namedGunther Manzetti, whose favorite way to elicit confessions is with theapplication of Drano crystals. Meanwhile, in a Sailor and Lula/Wild at Heart sort of subplot, Boyd has hooked up with Krystal, a New Age prostitute whobelieves they've lived past lives as lovers. And Allison - down and out ina two dog prairie town - has finally accepted a ride from someone whoisn't a creep, though leather-goods designer and salesman Thomas St. John has a past and darkness in hislife, too.
The three couples thrust and parry at each other in a madcap odysseyfueled at turns by revenge, greed, pent-up aggression, past deeds and transgressions, and a strange sense of fate. Brian Hodge has alwaystaken a deeply philosophical interest in his characters' lives, and thisnovel is no exception, proving that a thriller need not be soulless -indeed, the philosophy is a dimensionthat sets this work apart from Hiaasen's and Leonard's. That Wild Horses can be laugh-aloud humorous and yet breathtakingly horrific; that eachcharacter can reveal multiple facets - even Gunther the thug issympathetic at times, or bitterly aging Madeline, who wants to buy back her physical beauty if not her youth; that theodyssey's end must erupt in a flash of violence not easily forgotten; andthat the brilliant, inevitable climax leaves an almost tangible taste inyour mouth ... that is the proof of Brian Hodge's accomplishment here.
Once you've made Hodge's acquaintance with WildHorses, you can work your way back to Prototype, The Darker Saints, and Deathgrip, not to mention his collections The Convulsion Factory and Fallen Idols. And you can look forward to his next modernWestern with delight and anticipation.