- Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Lionel White is one of those classic hard-boiled authors more people should know about. He was the master of the caper. Well-planned heists, robberies, and kidnappings and the place of fate (or more often human emotion) that unravels the best-laid plans were his specialty. His novel Clean Break is a prime example.
Clean Break concerns the planning, execution, and aftermath of a race track robbery of close to two million dollars. Almost every perpetrator is a “normal citizen” acting as an inside man. Aside from the fresh-from-prison master mind, Johnny Clay, they only know their particular part of the job. One of the men’s wives is seeing a hood on the side, and the two of them hatch a plan to rob the robbers.
The heist is the major character. The planning and execution is shown down to the detail. White uses an innovative technique in rewinding time to follow each participant in their part of the job. Critics often give credit for clarity to Stanley Kubrick in his film adaptation, The Killing, yet White’s clean and lean style allows him to tell a complex tale without the reader without ever being lost. The execution is so sharp, the inevitable unraveling hits you in the gut.
That’s not to say the characters aren’t indelible – Johnny Clay is a stick-up man with ambition. This is his first big-time score, a factor that creates suspense by keeping us in the shadows as to if he can pull it off. Other than his attachment to contacts in the underworld and his honor-among-thieves morality, he makes Stark’s Parker look like Mr. Personality and probably sizes everyone he meets as a partner or a victim. Even the “normal citizens,” including a cop with mafia connections and a degenerate gambler-turned-track-bartender, are morally compromised. Clay says they all have a little larceny in them. Not only did White not bother to make his criminals sympathetic, he offered very little to understand them. He knows you don’t read heist novels for heroes.
i was happy to discover that publisher Stark House has recently brought Clean Break back into print. Clean Break is available in an omnibus edition with White’s novel The Snatcher that also includes a great introduction by crime fiction writer and historian Rick Ollerman. The Snatcher is a kidnapping story with such a detailed crime, a French desperado was able to use the plot to execute a successful kidnapping of his own. Both show White’s expertise in criminal operations. It makes you wonder if Lionel White did something on the side to supplement his writing income.
You can find copies of Clean Break/The Snatcher on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Australian Andrew Nette talks heist novels and tells us about his latest, Gunshine State
- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
Andrew Nette is a rising star from Australia, whose recent book, Gunshine State, puts him in a league of modern hard boiled’s best. It deals with Afghan vet-turned-robber, Garry Chance, on the run and out for revenge when his robbery of a Filipino gangster’s son goes bloody and wrong. Nette plays with the heist tropes in a way that makes them his own. we caught up to him to talk about the book, influences, and writing in general.
MysteryPeople Scott: Gunshine State reminded me of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway, in the sense it is a heist novel that spends most of its time with the fallout of the heist. What did you want to do with the subgenre?
Andrew Nette: I’m a major Jim Thompson and The Getaway is probably my favourite of his novels (or a close second to The Grifters). The 1972 Sam Peckinpah film version is also wonderful. So, I take the comparison as a great compliment.
I love heist books, the genius of their plots and the variations they come in, whether it be the all star criminal team assembled for a job or the ex-con desperate for one big score. And the golden rule of heist fiction, which Thomson follows so well in The Getaway, is the heist always, always, goes wrong. Whether something goes awry with the plan, human greed or suspicion, or just plain bad luck, the heist must go wrong and the participants are left to pick up the pieces. And the more twisted and broken things get, the better I like it. My main aim in Gunshine State was to write a uniquely Australian take on the classic heist story set in contemporary times.
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- Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
A good series shows more and more focus with each book. The nuances of the lead characters show patterns and changes as a subtle arc becomes apparent and the themes more vibrant as the light of each facet bounces off the other. Following a strong series character is like watching a skilled artist work on a mosaic, each story is a step toward a bigger picture. Timothy Hallinan’s King Maybe reminded me of this, showing what I often think as a collection of light-hearted caper novels has a lot more going on.
For those unfamiliar with Junior, he is a Los Angeles burglar who at times is forced to be an ad-hoc private eye for other criminals. As often in the books, King Maybe opens up with Junior in the middle of a job. This one involves lifting a rare stamp out of the home of a mobster, something that becomes more complicated when the man and his henchmen come back early. The outcome of the situation leads from one burglary job to another as well as a murder. It all swirls around a movie mogul known as “King Maybe” for the way he dangles the hope of a green light without ever committing to a project. To mention anymore would give away the entertaining twists and turns Junior is put through.
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- Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
I am a sucker for a heist novel. Whether it’s amateurs pushed to economic extremes, “Born To Lose” punks with thirty-eights, or precise pros, the story of someone taking something from someone else always draws me in, no matter how well I’ve gotten to know the scores. I was excited to find out that one of my favorite hard boiled authors, Josh Stallings, was comitting his own style of literary larceny with Young Americans.
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The Hard Word Book Club meets Wednesday, July 29, at 7 pm, on BookPeople’s third floor, to discuss Kings of Midnight, by Wallace Stroby. Stroby calls in to make this a special Hard Word occasion. All book club books are 10% off in the month of their selection.
July’s Hard Word Book Club looks at one of the best crooks since Parker. Wallace Stroby’s Crissa Stone is a heist-woman doing scores to get her mentor and lover out of prison. Crissa Stone, as a professional thief with a sensitive side, brings a fresh take and and stronger emotional core to the heist novel while still being very hard-boiled. One of the best examples of Stroby’s Stone novels is Kings Of Midnight.
In Kings Of Midnight, Stroby uses true crime as a part of his crime fiction, using the 1978 Lufthansa Robbery made famous by the film Goodfellas. After the robbery it was believed most of the robbers were murdered by their ringleader or the mafia. While some money was found, over five million was never recovered. Kings Of Midnight uses the premise that the remaining loot could or could not be in the home of a mob boss. At least that is what Crissa is told by Benny, a former mobster loosely based on informant Henry Hill. if she can trust a former snitch, it’ll be a big pay off. Either way, the troubles she already has with the mob will expand.
There is a lot to discuss about Kings Of Midnight: the anti-heroine, using real crime in crime fiction, honor among thieves. Luckily, Wallace Stroby joins the Hard Word Book Club in a conference call the day of discussion to help us out. Join us on BookPeople’s 3rd Floor at 7PM, Wednesday, July 29th. The book is 10% off at the register to those who attend.
You can find copies of Kings of Midnight on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.