Skip to main content

Just Thieves


Just Thieves

We’re all born thieves. At least that’s what Rick, a professional thief and the narrator of Gregory Galloway’s compelling, philosophical thriller, JUST THIEVES, believes. “Eve and the apple and all that…businessmen, inventors, and artists steal any and everything,” he thinks. “We all steal something; it’s the way we are.” From that point of view, Rick and his partner in crime, Frank, are just small-time players operating at the edges of a vast, theft-based economy.

Rick and Frank are recovering addicts who work for a shadowy man named Froehmer, a quasi-father figure to Rick. Froehmer hires the pair to filch odd items from unsuspecting victims --- rare sneakers, a painting, a “horrible” piece of pottery worth more than $20,000. When the book opens, they’re in an unnamed city, preparing to stake out a home in order to steal a small trophy, which is this blatantly noir-ish novel’s equivalent of the Maltese Falcon. The “thing,” as Rick calls it, looks like just another piece of worthless junk to him, but it turns out to have a lot of value to a number of people, all of whom are willing to go to great lengths to get their hands on it. (Galloway holds out on revealing what exactly the thing is until near the book’s end, when one character, in a twist on Sam Spade’s famous line, bluntly describes it as “the stuff that *ssholes are made of.”)

"...a darkly elegant homage to the hard-boiled crime novels of Chandler, Cain and Macdonald --- a smart, suspenseful tale that asks us to consider what we owe, and what we take from, those around us."

JUST THIEVES starts off slowly. Rick and Frank kill time in their hotel room and sit around in parked cars, eating Chinese takeout as they wait for the right time to make their move. Galloway carefully doles out details about Rick’s background and his relationship with his father, a crooked city official who was friendly with Froehmer, and his past with Frank, a former teacher who unwinds by reading Plato and Tacitus. But the tension ratchets up considerably around the book’s halfway mark, as Rick embarks on an increasingly violent quest to figure out exactly what went wrong with his last job --- and who’s responsible.

As Rick’s story unfolds, what emerges is a darkly elegant homage to the hard-boiled crime novels of Chandler, Cain and Macdonald --- a smart, suspenseful tale that asks us to consider what we owe, and what we take from, those around us. The book is peppered with nods to the works of those and other authors (ranging from Jean Genet to Patricia Highsmith), as well as to classic noirs such as The Killers and Double Indemnity, all scrupulously cited at the novel’s end.

“The machinery had started to move and nothing could stop it,” Rick thinks as the book barrels toward its conclusion, echoing the words of the doomed insurance salesman Walter Neff in the latter film. Galloway returns repeatedly to that idea of Rick being caught up in the machinery of a corrupt, exploitative system behind his understanding or control. At one point, he falls out of Froehmer’s favor and is sent to work off his debt in a sprawling warehouse where “they st​​ored the sh*t that people sent back” and where he and the other employees are “all small, silent cogs in an enormous machine.”

After Rick gets home from his job driving around on his forklift, picking up other people’s trash, he reflects on a conversation with Frank, one that makes the novel’s political position crystal clear. “We’re all crooks,” Rick recalls telling his partner. “Because we’re capitalists.” For Frank, the rot goes back to America’s founding; it’s part of the country’s DNA. “They stole land, then they stole people to work on the land,” he says. “It was all baked in from the beginning, from before the beginning.” Rick might be a thief, but he’s just playing the same game as everyone else.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on October 23, 2021

Just Thieves
by Gregory Galloway

  • Publication Date: November 8, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House
  • ISBN-10: 1612199968
  • ISBN-13: 9781612199962