The Culprits by Robert Hough

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Hank Wallins is a broken man working the night shift in a meaningless job. Tormented by the tinnitus constantly ringing in his ears, he sleepwalks through life, too scarred by a tragic love affair to try again. When a madman pushes him into the path of an oncoming subway train, this scrape with death re-awakens Hank to the world. Craving a reengagement with passion, he reaches out to a young slightly cross-eyed Russian beauty who he locates on a website. He ventures by plane to meet the lovely and mysterious Anna in her hometown of St. Petersburg.

Anna Verkoskova seeks to flee not only the hopelessness of her economic situation, but also the reminders of her own failed love affair with Ruslan, a womanizing Dagastani rock star look-alike from the Chechen region. Finding no particular reason to dislike the kind, lumbering Hank, she agrees to follow him to Canada. But once she has left Russia behind, she is overwhelmed by homesickness and a dread of disappearing into the grey Toronto winter. Then she receives a frightening note: Ruslan has been kidnapped. She races home immediately, carrying a bag stuffed with cash. Hank’s cash.

Held captive and tortured by the FSB, Ruslan has been crippled by his tormentors and injected with N20, a mysterious CIA-developed serum that fills its victims’ brains with the totality of human knowledge, rendering them insane. Ruslan is traded to Chechen radicals and ransomed. As Anna is now associated with a “rich” Westerner, she is now a target for the ransom. Ruslan’s former political disengagement has been replaced by a new sort of apathy, one that renders him a pawn to whomever has control of the omniscient demons in his ears screaming for blood.

Returned to St. Petersburg and reunited with Ruslan, Anna quickly realizes that her former lover has been lost to her forever, as has her nation. With few options, she returns to the safety of Hank and Canada and discovers that, with her passion for Ruslan faded, she has room for new passions to emerge. But she also carries with her a life-altering secret.

The novel unfolds through the words of a narrator who describes himself as an abomination, yet he is heroic and compassionate, and capable of immense acts of love, including the creation of this very narrative itself–a gift for his unborn half-sister. His horrors have been formed as a result of untold millennia of blood hatred. But it is through his existence that our protagonists transcend their own human culpability.

A kaleidoscopic and riotous tale, voiced by one of the most unusual narrators in literary history, Robert Hough’s The Culprits puts shape and flesh to the murky unknowns surrounding a real-life terrorist incident and all that led up to it, shining a light into some of humanity’s most inscrutable sins. This novel is at once a mind-blowing hallucination and a classic love story, exploring the human thirsts for love and passion, for allegiance and trust, and for terrible vengeance.

About Robert Hough

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Born in Toronto in 1963, Robert Hough knew he wanted to become a writer in high school. After graduating in 1985 from Queen’s University, where he wrote satirical articles for the arts paper, Hough worked briefly in advertising before becoming a journalist. For about a dozen years, he wrote for such magazines asToronto LifeandSaturday Nightbefore turning to books. Hough’s first book was originally intended to be a biography of Mabel Stark, a promiscuous and ribald 1920s lion tamer for Ringling Brothers Circus. Due to a general lack of documentation on Stark, Hough decided to write a novel instead. Published to rave reviews in 2001,The Final Confession of Mabel Starkwas shortlisted for both the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book and the Trillium Book Award and was sold into the US, the UK and twelve other countries. It is currently in development for a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet in the role of Stark. Hough’s second novelThe Stowawaywas also based on a true story, a fictionalized account of the Maersk Dubai incident, during which Romanian stowaways were found on board a Taiwanese freighter and thrown into the North Atlantic to die. One stowaway was protected by Filipino crewmen and survived. Hough conducted exhaustive research for the novel, locating and interviewing the Filipino crewmembers, as well as Romanian-Canadians who lived under the Ceausescu regime. The novel garnered critical praise and was published internationally. It was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Award, and was chosen by theBoston Globeas one of the top ten fiction books of 2004. WithThe Culprits, Hough once again riffs on reality, this time taking for the novel’s backdrop the Chechen conflict and a terrorist bombing that took place during a rock concert at a Moscow airbase in 2003. While researching the book, Hough stayed with a Russian family for a week in Saint Petersburg. “I had this really great guide named Tania Smirnova,” he recalls. “She was just nineteen, and she took me out to the bleak, god-forsaken suburbs that ring the city. It was worse than I could have imagined, and I have a dark imagination: communal apartments, drunken neighbours, graffiti-coated walls, broken down elevators, shot-out lights, general air of threatening despondency. It was late October, and the weather was freezing rain the whole time. It was a great trip.” Hough lives in Toronto with his wife and two daughters.
Published September 11, 2007 by Random House Canada. 320 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction. Fiction