I have been coming across the name “Peter Spiegelman” quite a bit recently in blogs, reviews and articles. Spiegelman has been writing for eight years or so, publishing on average a book every two years. His first three concerned a private investigator named John Marsh, but his latest is a departure from that series. This is a fully-realized noir caper full to the brim with tightly coiled tension and suspense, played out against the backdrop of a canvas that stretches from South America across the Grand Caymans to Miami and West Palm Beach.
"The majority of [the book] relies on suspense rather than violence to keep things moving in an extremely subtle way."
THICK AS THIEVES revolves around a tightly wound but loosely wrapped quintet of thieves who are planning one last grand heist before retirement. They are led by the enigmatic Carr, who, like the team itself, is slowly and quietly coming apart at the seams. Trust is the issue --- an issue occasioned by a prior heist went horribly wrong, which left Carr as the somewhat doubtful heir-apparent. It does not help matters that Carr is dipping his pen in the office ink, if you will. His involvement with Valerie, the femme fatale of the group, is perhaps the weakest link in the group’s chain, and serves as the prickly focal point of the simmering controversy between Carr and Latin Mike. He is slowly but surely challenging Carr’s authority, position and ability to lead within and without the group, while making overt moves on Valerie as well.
The crew itself receives assignments from an enigmatic and extremely dangerous giant of a man named Boyce, who can effectively communicate a threat with a glance or a quiet chuckle. The final job for the crew is a series of heists that involve acquiring one item or set of items that, in turn, enable the gang to obtain one after another. This leads to a goal that is extremely vague at first, but that becomes more clearly defined as the story proceeds.
Meanwhile, however, one can sense the wheels coming off the wagon as Carr comes to think that his team, including (and, perhaps, especially) Valerie, cannot be trusted. It soon becomes clear that no one is precisely who they appear to be, or, in Carr’s case, who they even think they are. The novel ultimately builds to a dramatic and tumultuous conclusion, one that is hair-raising and full of surprises, as scores are settled and debts are paid.
THICK AS THIEVES is as smart a book as you are likely to read this year. The majority of it relies on suspense rather than violence to keep things moving in an extremely subtle way. Squeaks, not shouts, create the tension here; the crew, more often than not, is where they are not supposed to be (a house, an office) so that any untoward noise can lead to discovery. And discovery can have profound, even life-threatening consequences. This is particularly true during the first and last thirds of the book.
Those who are perhaps unhappy with what is perceived as an excessive amount of violence found in many thrillers will be more than pleased with what they find here, given Spiegelman’s reliance on the threat of violence or its aftermath, rather than graphic descriptions of the act itself, to propel readers through his narrative. And propel it does. THICK AS THIEVES contains nary a boring passage and a surfeit of surprises of all manner and sorts. Fans of strong writing, razor-sharp plotting and unforgettable characters will find much to love as well.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 25, 2011