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November 10, 2022

Just Thieves: A Collaboration (of Sorts)


Now available in paperback, JUST THIEVES is a nail-biting, noirish exploration of the working lives of two unforgettable crooks and the hidden forces that rule and ruin their lives. Gregory Galloway has penned a twisty and twisted crime novel that evokes the worlds of George V. Higgins, Patricia Highsmith and David Mamet. In fact, these legendary writers --- along with Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy B. Hughes, Herman Melville and many others --- served as his inspiration for the book, which includes “more than 40 allusions, homages, references and direct lifts from novels, as well as a number of crime films.” In this fun and insightful piece, Galloway explains why and how he did this.


If I were to imagine an ideal collaboration of writers to create the perfect crime fiction, I think I’d want Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy B. Hughes and George V. Higgins (and not just to stay in the Hs). I’d want the plot of Hammett, the psychological insights of Hughes, and the language of Higgins. And, since it’s imaginary, I’d want more. I’d want Georges Simenon in there, and Patricia Highsmith, and Alain Robbe-Grillet, and more and more. Of course it’s impossible to get them to actually co-write together, but I tried to wrangle them all in one spot in my latest novel, JUST THIEVES, which “collaborates” with those authors in a variety of ways. Mostly in the way a pickpocket collaborates with his target.

JUST THIEVES includes more than 40 allusions, homages, references and direct lifts from novels, as well as a number of crime films. The most frequent questions I get asked are why and how. The why is easy. I love the tradition of crime fiction, especially noir, and early on I knew that I wanted to acknowledge my influences with more than a friendly tip of the fedora. It began as a story of thieves-for-hire who are contracted to take things for a boss, and I knew they ultimately would take something that would get them in deep trouble. As the novel began to take shape, it started to veer closer and closer toward Hammett territory, and I initially thought I should change things to avoid him. On second thought, I figured it best to hit him dead on. I also thought that a novel about thieves could use a little larceny of its own.

That led me to think of other parts of the novel that might benefit from a few other nods and winks to other writers. I had a scene set on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, so I saw an opportunity to say hello to Patricia Highsmith; a scene of a couple of guys talking about how the world works, which seemed like a good place for Raymond Chandler to weigh in. As it went on, I began to think about other writers I wanted to include, and went back and looked at G.K. Chesterton, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Herman Melville --- writers who had something to say about thieves, violence and revenge. I mostly had a scene written first and then found a sentence or two I could slip in; sometimes I would write a scene around something I found, or re-work a scene from a specific source (e.g. Melville’s THE CONFIDENCE-MAN). I’m also a habitual scribbler; I keep notebooks full of fragments, overheard conversations, wayward sentences, lines from songs or movies. I am a devout and devoted fan of TCM’s “Noir Alley” and have stockpiled dialogue from films, some of which made it into the manuscript.

The trick was to make it as seamless as possible. It was never meant to be necessary or even overt (except for a couple of spots). You can read the novel without ever giving the other writers a thought, but I hope that people who pick up on the call-outs will get the same satisfaction you might have when you catch a reference on “The Simpsons” (dutifully mentioned in JUST THIEVES), recognize the B-movies Quentin Tarantino cadges, or when you can identify the source of any of the hundreds of lines T.S. Eliot lifted for “The Waste Land” (1922). There’s a mix of the obvious and the obscure (all acknowledged at the end), but I’ve also buried a few treasures for the keen-eyed crime fans who appreciate the threads that run through the tradition of crime novels and connect us all.