The Culprits

Publisher: Vintage Canada
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 Ruslan’s former political disengagement has been replaced by a new sort of apathy, one that renders him a pawn to whomever has control of the omniscient demons in his ears screaming for blood.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.



Ahhhh, little one; ahhhhhh, my soon-to-be last-name sharer; ahhhhhhhhhh, the future pride and joy of Hank and mamochka. There’s one thing I must tell you. Life is a deception. Oh yes–it’s a ruse, it’s a scam, it’s a carnival shell game. When you peel back one layer of...
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1. The word “culprit” not only appears in the title, but it also peppers the narrative of this book. How does the narrator use the word? What do you feel is his attitude towards it? Whom or what do you see as the true culprits in this story?

2. Discuss the opening paragraph of the book in which the...

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Praise for The Final Confession of Mabel Stark:

“Utterly captivating and thrilling. . . . A book to be pressed into the hands of customers.”
The Bookseller (UK)

“A marvelous debut about the life and amazing adventures of the greatest female tiger trainer in circus history, narrated with delicious humour and warmth. . . . One of the most entertaining novels in many a year.”
Kirkus (starred review)

Praise for The Stowaway:

“Hough does a masterful job creating an atmosphere of stifling anxiety, set against a vividly detailed portrait of the workaday reality of a large cargo vessel. . . . A superb, deceptively simple novel.”
Boston Globe

“A moving, haunting novel, full of deeply sympathetic portraits of common people being uncommonly brave.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“This is a powerful novel that artfully combines the vivid, breathless pacing of the best adventure stories with the moral and metaphysical depth of the best literary fiction.”
Quill & Quire

From the Hardcover edition.