Tuesday, June 12, 2012


I'm now cobbling a third book tentatively titled, I'M AFRAID OF EVERYTHING. The title betrays what can only be regarded as an odyssey, the protagonist of which mysteriously vanishes behind the locked doors of a mental health facility and, with the aid of mass social hysteria and the cult of celebrity, emerges into a bizarre arena of unprecedented success and demise. 

Hold on to your own sanity when this mother is released.

Synopsis of 

Unemployed whiz kid Dale Cooles struggles to save his marriage and his sanity when his previously charmed life's turned awry by a cadre of creeps and killers.

Dale and wife Lacy - daughter of an eccentric but profoundly rich Tennessee lumber magnate - unwittingly adopt into their domestic wrangle Twist, the brain-damaged orphan, and Lieutenant Revels, the beat-weary yet determined conservation officer seeking revenge for Lacy's unscrupulous boss's part in the mysterious extinction of rare birds on a prime piece of real estate.

And then there are the other extinctions ... the human ones.

In the parade of offbeat characters in Hughes' ingenious and '90s-set street smart black comedy of crime, we meet cutthroat businessman Henry Meredith, out for what he can get, psycho hitman Connie Jablonski, out for what he can hurt, mobster Johnny Avalino, greedy to enhance the value of his beach-front property by any means, Nancy Littlecrow, the shameless and cagey Native American attorney who gives new meaning to the term 'Indian Affairs', Seymour L. Bram, the retired and retiring Air Force Major suffering from chronic depression and delusions of easy money, Duncan Slochbauer, the slovenly and obsessed amateur producer of grisly news videos ...

And we don't quite meet poor Karen Kern and the faceless others who might have crossed the path of a perverse serial killer nobody seems to have noticed lurking somewhere in Hughes' uniquely colourful dramatis personae.

Reviews of 

A stunning first novel. An up-to-date take on the classic American murder mystery. Harry Hughes tells his suspenseful story in quick-paced and colorful prose and creates dozens of sharply drawn characters, including Dale Cooles, an unforgettable anti-hero.

Michael Lydon, author of Rock Folk and Ray Charles: Man and Music. Michael is also a co-founder of Rolling Stone magazine

In a methodical build... Wait, let me back up. Before the story begins, Harry Hughes has chosen to insert a prologue. An iffy prospect if done poorly. But, Hughes starts THE BAIT SHACK out with a bang - in the throes of a gruesome murder. Hughes carries the murder through the entire length of the prologue. He writes his prologue by visiting and revisiting the act all the while being completely immersed in the mind of the victim. And, when you think she has suffered quite enough, you're dead wrong (forgive the pun). The disemboweling murderer keeps at her. He keeps torturing this poor woman until the very end. It's the most agonizing murder scene I've ever read and Hughes quite purposefully has written it this way. He makes the reader lie down next to the victim as the murderer pierces her skin - plunging the knife in deeper - slices up her skin, smokes a cigarette while she lays in a pool of her own blood, close to death and then finally finishes her off. You think that's a long sentence? Just wait until you read the prologue. You're there with the characters every step of the way. It's a brutal depiction of a heinous crime and a depiction that Hughes has captured eloquently, if that can be said about a murder. He's prolonged the writing of this scene with intention. In order for the reader to understand the murderer's nature, the slow exhaustive death of the victim, and I think also in part, to understand Harry Hughes - this meticulous author leaves nothing to chance. Okay, now... in a methodical build of staging and conflict, characters and convergence, Hughes writes the perfect mystery. A dark and eerie thriller at times but always at a page-turning pace, THE BAIT SHACK left me feeling like I had just had some of the best most rigorous sex of my life but with the skankiest guy. After I finished THE BAIT SHACK I felt like I wanted to take a shower. The story is funny. It's creepy. It's like covering your eyes from seeing something you don't want to see but then opening your fingers because, well, you just have to watch. Hughes writes in a crisp and tantalizing manner. The dark sardonic story found in THE BAIT SHACK is so out there at times, that I found myself turning my head and saying, "Good lord." And, that's a good thing. I want to feel something when I read a book. Many times I wanted to ask Hughes why he went from A to B in the plot but then as I read along, and, as with any fine writer, he answered my questions brilliantly and usually with such complete and utter creativity that he left me breathless. As a writer myself, I felt envious of Hughes' ability to be so organically complex and then be able to comb through all of his built-in complexities with satisfying resolutions. Hughes takes the genre of mystery to a new height. His writing style is unlike any one else's I've read. He sets a new standard for authors to shoot for. Harry Hughes has found in THE BAIT SHACK a narrative thrust that makes the story an absolute pleasure to read. Well done, Mr. Hughes.
Now, what's next?

Susan Wingate, author of Bobby's Diner, Spider Brains, Of the Law, Sacrifice at Sea, Drowning, Camouflage, and Hotter than Helen!

Dale Cooles is a mathematician ready to tie up some messy ends. He's quit his fancy university job, said goodbye to his last fling, and applied himself to his new life as unemployed, kept husband of Lacy Chamblet. Lacy is secretary to robber baron Henry Meredith, who makes his living cheating his tenants, avoiding tax, and hiring low cost street kids too unemployable to blow the whistle on him. But this time, he's teamed up with mobster Johnny Avalino, and his plans take a nasty turn. Are Dale and Lacy smarter than Meredith thinks they are? Is thwarted conservation officer Calvin Revels able to pay Meredith back for destroying an endangered species of bird, along with Revels' career? And just who is the vicious Connie Jablonski, and what is his relationship to Meredith's other employee Twist Van Houghten - a boy with a face twisted from Bell's Palsy, a head twisted from a run in with a concrete slab, and an odd ability to turn people's names into fully expressed acronyms?

The Bait Shack opens like a Stephen King thriller, and keeps up the pace, but it soon becomes obvious that this is a very funny read: humour overpacing the horror. Dale and Lacy are super quick on the comebacks - the witty one liners keep coming, alongside an omniscient narrative voice with a vocabulary to rival Umberto Eco's. The two protagonists are almost too clever, but their toe tripping insecurity, bumbling, and honesty keeps everything real, and provide a slapstick counter to the rapid pace of their minds. They're only klutzes after all: not evil or manipulative like everyone else. It's a rollicking ride to the surprise denouement, and the murder mystery keeping everything rolling along.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss this book as `feel good', light-hearted beach reading just because it's fun and fast. Both Dale and Lacy are serious, believable characters Between the whine and the wine, Dale often expresses profound insights on the nature of modern society. At other times he'll explore the nature of man's existence against an aging body and midlife crisis. The exploration of themes like how we deal with midlife, love, and hate in the 21st Century - in the wake of the sixties -- makes this a book that resonates long after the fun stops. Hughes' descriptive powers are exceptional, from the Dickensian characters carrying the full range of quirks - both charming and obnoxious, to the rich natural world of its Long Island setting. In The Bait Shack, Harry Hughes takes noir to a new level. Wry, classy, compelling and utterly hysterical. Think Iain Pears crossed with Martin Amis. Dale and Lacy make an endearing team of anti-heroes in a world showing its true colors. Read it for pleasure and and then re-read it to find surprising richness in the depths of its insights.
Magdalena Ball, author of Sleep Before Evening, Black Cow, The Art of Assessment, Repulsion Thrust, and more . . .

The Bait Shack is an intriguingly entertaining and engaging murder mystery that demonstrates a vivid imaginative gift on the part of author, Harry Hughes. In his debut novel, Hughes expertly created a small but complex cast of characters whose quirky persona and relationship dynamics lend much to the novel's appeal. Dale Cooles, a mathematician/number cruncher, walks way from his university position to begin a new life with his bride, Lacy Chamblet. He is content to stay home, cook and clean for a change while Lacy goes to work for the property management firm of Meredith Holdings and its less than reputable owner, Henry Meredith. Meredith is known for his unsavory business practices, his sleazy relationships, and his employ of undesirable characters to do his bidding. But Meredith's life gets complicated when a key business deal doesn't pan out and he hires an unsavory goon to collect unpaid rent on the properties. All this aside, living in a cottage situated behind one of Meredith's old empty homes has its advantages for Dale and Lacy. That is, until they slip into the main house and find evidence that points to a few unsolved murders. Angers flair and egos collide but the pace never lets up until the very ending I didn't see coming. Hughes has crafted a solid read around a twisted tail that explores the dark side of the human soul and peppered it with his own brand of deliciously dry humor. The Bait Shack is a fast read that will easily hold the attention of any murder mystery buff. I definitely look forward to more from Harry Hughes.

Marta Stephens, author of The Devil Can Wait, Silenced Cry, and the popular Murder By 4 Web Site

Dale Cooles has quit his job and recently married. He moves into a cottage owned by his bride's employer who has several land holdings. That this is a strange place is understated as every character has quirks and foibles that take them out of what we call normal. Dale is content to hang around the house even though he is very educated. He seems to be very satisfied with very little. Dale's wife, Lacy, works for a man who insults her too often and one wonders why she stays. The pay doesn't seem to be very good. And she shares the office at times with Twist, a man who seems to live up to his name. Henry Meredith seems to suffer from terminal greed among other things. This curious cast would make a great adult film for Halloween. The story starts on a rather sunless note and slowly sinks into the shadowy darkness of the mind where a killer lurks. Yet, the reader will only slowly be aware of the danger some characters may be in. Fans of Psycho will be right at home with this tale with its suspense and tension and the mysterious mansion the owner does not want visited There are several subplots at play, cleverly tied into the main story as the reader begins to guess at what will happen, what motivates these people and why they do some of the things they do. Talented author Harry Hughes will slowly twist all the strands into one while holding out attention from page one to the end. I'm pleased to recommend this book as a fun read for anyone who likes houses that creak in the night, shadows that pass windows and seem to peer in, and likes strange characters whose crudities and rawness make them very lifelike. Enjoy. I did.

Anne K. Edwards, author of Shadows Over Paradise, Journey Into Terror, and Death on Delivery

When Harry Hughes grabs your hand and pulls you along the twisted corridors of his mind, you are helpless to let go, helpless to do anything but white-knuckle the ride of the too-eager newlywed couple Dale and Lacy Cooles as they attempt to outrun their pasts and the murderer staking a claim in their own backyard. As the plot unfolds, The Bait Shack parades a crew of miscreants across its pages, succulent and suspicious all, and the proverbial finger of blame shifts directions numerous times. From the lecherous business developer and the meathead criminal to the disfigured boy and the cast of crooked extras, Hughes delivers. Then with evidence stacked up and illumination near, Hughes rips the rug out. Dale and Lacy edge closer to the truth while the plot gels to the consistency of a hearty stew; readers will delight in poking around to unearth the answers and find unraveling the storyline as much of a challenge as it is savory. The bonus seasoning? Each page teems with delicious phrases and brisk dialogue that will incite knowing smiles and audible chuckles. Harry Hughes, please pen another. Please reintroduce your readers to the meaning of smart writing, of writing with art. In a world of pat novels, Hughes stands out as an author who knows his stuff, but more importantly as an author who loves his stuff. Devour The Bait Shack.

Hilary L. Laurens, literary critic

While reading The Bait Shack, I found myself emerged into Dale and Lacy's life. Mr. Hughes manages to spin an intricate weave with intriguing characters, suspense scenes, and sprinkles of humor to add dimension. In The Bait Shack, Dale Cooles decides to change his life by quitting his job, relocating, and marrying Lacy Chamblet. What he does not realize is with this decision he will find himself and Lacy struggling to keep their unstable marriage together while surrounded by unsavory characters and macabre events. Lacy is a secretary for a shrewd real estate owner, Henry Meredith. He will stop at nothing to obtain what he wants. Henry is diabolical and rude beyond words. He also employs Twist, a brain damaged boy who does odd and end jobs and is a whiz with acronyms. Both Lacy and Twist find themselves on the receiving in of Henry's verbal abusiveness. Previous workers of Mr. Meredith's have met an untimely end and Lacy feels she may be the next. Lieutenant Revels, a conservation officer, seeks revenge on Henry for killing off a protected species of birds. Connie Jablonski is a maniacal ex-con who brings intimidation and pain to those around him. Johnny Avalino is a mobster who will stop at nothing to increase the value of his beachfront property. Nancy Littlecrow is an unscrupulous lawyer who doesn`t mind working the "gray area", especially if it benefits her. Seymour Bram is a retired, depressed Air Force Major looking for the easiest way to become rich. Duncan Slochbauer, an amateur videographer stumbles upon the murdered remains of Karen Kern, a previous employer of Henry's. All the characters come to life in the book, bringing with them a variety of personalities. Somehow Mr. Hughes manages to tie them all together with a superb story that kept me guessing to the end. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading more from this author.

Renda R. Brooks, literary critic

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