This is a book that comes out the gate hobbled, in a way. There has been a lot of hype about ROBBERS and, more specifically, about Christopher Cook, about how he writes like Elmore Leonard or James Lee Burke. Now, how is this guy, with his first published book, going to live up to that? Well...I doubt it was easy, but Cook does it. And let's toss in some Larry Brown influence and, yeah, maybe even some Cormac MacCarthy chops as well. Yes, yes, Christopher Cook is that good.
I had my doubts for a minute or two; make that one doubt, on the first page, but that was quickly blown away. I never put this book down once after I opened it, except to underline passages and even to write a few of them down. James Crumley, no slouch himself, offers a blurb on the back of ROBBERS that Cook writes like an angel. Just so. But he's like an angel who was cast down into hell to bear witness to what is going on to those above.
If you've done any long distance traveling by automobile you've seen Ray Bob and Eddie from ROBBERS. You might have seen them at a roadside rest stop or gas station, or walking into a package liquor store in Kentucky. They're the guys with the long sleeve shirts that almost but not quite cover the jailhouse tattoos. They're either on the pay phone and not talking or taking a long time to decide on what six-pack to buy. You automatically avoid eye contact with them and try to keep at least a few aisles, or urinals, between them and you. You don't know why, but you do it. And then you try to get the hell back on the road, not running, not hurrying, but not dawdling either. Ray Bob and Eddie are the stars of ROBBERS. They are on the run, though they're taking their time about it. They are totally unpredictable; all that one can say for sure is that whatever they do, it won't be anything good.
Things begin to change a bit when Ray Bob and Eddie pick up a hitchhiker named Della, a beautician who is on the run herself and who will find the ride to be the best and worst thing that ever happened to her. At the same time, the trio is being pursued by Rule Hooks, a Texas Ranger --- yes, there are still Texas Rangers --- who seeks them by scent and sight and sound and instinct across the length and breadth of Texas. Matters become more complicated when Eddie begins to fall for Della and decides to clean himself up for her. Ray Bob has other ideas, however; he saw Eddie first, and he's not about to give up his running buddy without a fight. Or worse.
ROBBERS is a compelling, thrilling tale with characters that are as true to hardscrabble life as a trip down the backroads of America, the roads that the freeways have bypassed and the people have been left behind. And it is that locale, specifically the locale of Texas, that Cook, in a novel loaded with the magic of words, works his greatest spell of all. For his description of east Texas --- the Texas not conjured by the name, the rural backwoods that adjoin Louisiana --- is as compelling as anything you've read. I found it hard to resist jumping into my automobile and making the 18 hour drive there, simply to experience the geography with which Cook provides the backdrop and setting for the tale. And the impulse is still with me as I sit here writing.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on November 1, 2000