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Among Thieves


Among Thieves

Don’t let AMONG THIEVES get past you. There are many worthy books being published on a weekly basis, so it’s difficult to decide what to read. But John Clarkson’s latest, a hard-boiled and hard-driving crime caper novel, stands out among them.

It has been a while --- 11 years, a veritable eternity in the publishing world --- since Clarkson has favored us with a novel, and AMONG THIEVES is the perfect vehicle to showcase his return. The book is set primarily in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, an ideal place for the almost nondescript bar that serves as Ground Zero for most of what occurs. The establishment is owned by James Beck (his identity well-hidden behind a business entity), an ex-convict who hires and assists fellow ex-cons. Beck is introduced in one of the best opening paragraphs I’ve read recently, which is right up there with THE LAST GOOD KISS by James Crumley and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE by George V. Higgins.

"AMONG THIEVES is fabulous, pure and simple. Clarkson, who also works as a screenwriter, brings some finely honed cinematic chops to the gritty and occasionally darkly humorous narrative..."

The jumpstart of the book is simple enough. One of Beck’s friends and associates, a hard case named “Manny” Guzman, wants someone killed. Guzman has a cousin, Olivia Sanchez, who has done very well working for Summit, a New York investment firm. Olivia is special to Manny, having been his sole visitor and contact with the outside world while he was doing a long and difficult prison stretch. Olivia has now come to Manny in dire straits, reporting that she has incurred the wrath of one of the firm’s partners, Alan Crane, who runs one of the firm’s most successful hedge funds. After becoming aware of some questionable transactions that Crane was making and mentioning it to Frederick Milstein, the firm’s owner, Crane violently confronted her. By the time the dust settled and the smoke cleared, Olivia had broken fingers and was out of a job.

Manny sees things very simply: Crane needs to die. Beck, however, sees an alternative, one that has the possibility of enriching his outreach program to ex-convicts while extracting a measure of revenge. He begins to exercise the street equivalent of due diligence and almost immediately doesn’t like what he sees. Crane’s fund is tied closely and dug in deeply with a ruthless Russian arms trader who sees any impediment to profit as something that must be removed immediately and effectively. Still, Beck starts softly (at least for him) by confronting Milstein and suggesting that a de facto severance package for Olivia would be appropriate. When the “request” initiates a violent rebuttal, Beck decides to go a different and more dramatic route. The more he learns, though, the more unsettled he becomes.

There is much more to Olivia’s firing, and to Summit, than initially was revealed. Still, Beck has a number of assets, namely the loyalty of his crew, extreme firepower, and an innate cunning that enables him to plan two or three steps ahead in a world where allies and adversaries can change in a New York minute and a violent fistfight can end in a wary handshake. By the time the book reaches its powerful and explosive conclusion(s), some things have changed while others have stayed the same (and not always for the better).

AMONG THIEVES is fabulous, pure and simple. Clarkson, who also works as a screenwriter, brings some finely honed cinematic chops to the gritty and occasionally darkly humorous narrative in this tale of the people who live constantly on the edge and behind unmarked doors in neighborhoods where most of us never stop if we travel through at all. One of the best pieces of news I received this past week is that Clarkson is working on the second book of a conceived series involving Beck and company. I hope we don’t have to wait another decade for it, but it most certainly would be worth it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 6, 2015

Among Thieves
by John Clarkson

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 1250081165
  • ISBN-13: 9781250081162