MysteryPeople Q&A with Charlie Huston

We’re looking forward to hosting Charlie Huston tonight at BookPeople. With books like Caught Stealing and The Mystic Arts Of Erasing All Signs of Death, he has been the crime fiction voice of his generation. His latest, Skinner, is a spy thriller featuring an assassin raised by scientists in a “Skinner box”. The lack of human contact makes him an efficient killer who carries some heavy emotional damage. In true action thriller fashion, we caught up with Charlie as he was driving and asked him a few questions.


MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the decision to write Skinner in the present tense come about?

CHARLIE HUSTON: Originally, I thought it lent itself to third person past tense since it went back and forth to different points of view. As I got into it, I noticed it was one of my densest books. There’s a lot of verbage. The present tense seemed to goose the narrative.

MP: How did you come across the idea of using the Skinner box?

CH: I read an article about scientists who incorporated children into their experiments. Most were benign, but the idea of the Skinner box freaked me out. Then I took it to its most extreme.

MP: What is your writing routine?

CH: I’m a schedule guy. I get my daughter off to school, then bike for exercise, then I’m at my desk by noon and I stay there until 6pm. There may be only three hours worth of actually writing, but I don’t leave that desk and I’m working out the story.

MP: What do you want people to take away from Skinner?

CH: Of course I want them to be entertained, but I’m a sucker for a melancholy story, so I’m always out to break your heart. I want that emotional connection, but have some optimism in the balance. In the end I want people to feel that the world right now may seem like a bad place, but it doesn’t have to be this way. People can find the right side and fight for it, no matter how small a group they are.

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Huston appears at BookPeople tonight, Wednesday, July 24 at 7pm, to speak about and sign Skinner. The event is free and open to the public. If you can’t make it, you can order a signed copy via bookpeople.com.

SKINNER Doesn’t Let Up

Skinner by Charlie Huston
Reviewed by Andrew

Skinner, the new novel by Charlie Huston, is a fast paced thriller that doesn’t let up. Each chapter in Skinner alternates view points between characters, giving the reader windows into how each character thinks and what their motivations are.

The main character, Skinner, is named after a skinner box in which a test subject is taught to respond to certain stimuli to condition an action (like a rat seeing a light and then pushing a lever). Skinner, in the book, grew up in a skinner box as an experiment by his parents. It’s an interesting idea that adds to the uniqueness of the main character.

Huston employs the present tense to keep the action fast-paced and constantly moving. Initially, this technique can take a little getting used to, but as the novel progresses it keeps readers on the edge of their seats knowing that each word happens exactly as it is read. Its style won me over in the end.

Huston takes us through a small village in India to the air conditioned battlegrounds of government buildings and keeps the reader’s interest with characters ranging from children whose prized possession is a ball, a former hit man turned “asset” protection (a bodyguard), and quirky, drug using roboticists who are the best at their jobs. Heck, there’s even a love story.

With the controversy over the NSA and Edward Snowden in the news, Skinner’s release date could not have been timed any better. The bulk of the novel focuses on how global conflict is increasingly being fought in cyberspace and will be great reaping grounds for novelists to come. Skinner is a quick and fun read that takes many twists and turns and is hard put down once it really gets moving.

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Charlie Huston speaks about and signs Skinner here at BookPeople this Wednesday, July 24 at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public.