Male prostitution, drug abuse, murder, and the struggle of addition are consistent themes throughout this harsh but honest slice of street noir by author Tom Pitts.
Donny and Big Rich are a couple of men living hour to hour, day to day, week to week, all in avoidance of the omnipresent 'sickness' slithering in the darkness waiting to drag them into the abyss of withdrawal and reality. Turning tricks to feed their habit and keep the demons at bay for just a little longer, they sell their bodies to the highest or most convenient buyer. In this instance the 'John' happens to be a credible and highly successful defence lawyer Gabriel Thaxton. Little do Donny and Rich know, that Thaxton is more trouble than he's worth.
Scheming, dreaming and bleeding through their profession, Rich sees a way out by resorting to blackmail. The target; Thaxton, his cash cow and ticket to redemption - the first steps along the tortured path to turning away from selling himself on the street corner. Problem is, Thaxton isn't the ideal mark for blackmail and what looked to be an easy take quickly turns into murder and the formation of uneasy alliances.
For the better part of HUSTLE I was completely drawn to the struggle and warped rationale Donny and Rich would easily succumb to in order to justify their lifestyle. Clouded by drugs, their thoughts ever lingering between experiencing that blissful high and coping the next score. If they have to endure rape by foreign object and succumb to a little bleeding and pain then so be it. This look at addiction and the lengths Donny and Rich would go to in order to feed it was captivating.
I can't help but think if it weren't for the showdown at the end of the book and slight nod towards the hardboiled PI genre that HUSTLE would truly be a modern noir classic - that isn't to say I didn't enjoy those aspects, as I did, however, that initial setting and deep characterisation is something readers strive to read.
Author Tom Pitts has got some serious talent - if HUSTLE is anything to go by then I must look into picking up anything else he's published.