When Alex Cassidy and Diane Alison meet by chance at a party in Princeton, New Jersey, there are instant sparks. Both are single parents living in wealthy suburbia, independent, highly competent and seemingly settled in their lives. She runs a successful catering business. He’s part of a crew that robs banks, casinos and jewellery stores around the world. Neither realises initially that their lives have overlapped before, or that their shared history and burgeoning relationship will come to threaten everything they love. As Alex prepares for one final, daunting job, he discovers that he’s not the only one with secrets – and that both of them are playing for the highest stakes imaginable…
Stan Parish is a new-to-me author, but with the promise of a sharp and shrewd noir heist thriller, in a similar vein to Roger Hobbs’ Ghostman or Patrick Hoffman’s The White Van, I was very intrigued by the premise of Love and Theft, and boy, was I hooked from the start. Opening with the very slick heist of an upmarket jewellery store in Las Vegas, one of the perpetrators Alex who is considering turning his back on his chosen criminal profession, then finds himself unwillingly involved in an altogether different sort of heist, and one that can only lead to a whole heap of trouble, for himself and those closest to him…
Being a real admirer of the pared down, punchy and lean narrative form, I found the prologue and first few opening chapters, completely held me in their thrall, as we bear witness to the initial robbery in a Las Vegas that is painted with vivid and energetic detail. The level of tension that Parish injects into this first compressed section of the book is flawless, seamlessly grabbing the reader by the throat to see what the crime is and how it is carried out, and leading us to an overriding keenness to see what happens to the perpetrators in its wake. I actually re-read this section a couple of times, and the pace and smoothness of the writing, gradually ramping up the dramatic tension and holding the readers’ attention wholly was absolutely sublime. I noticed throughout the book that this strong grip on tension evident in the carefully manipulated pace of the narrative, ebbs and flows allowing for Parish to not only immerse his reader in high octane danger, but also to slow the book down to some scenes of such poignancy and emotion that leads us to take pause and really see behind the masks of the characters that they present to the world.
This is particularly evident in the character of Alex Cassidy, a man with a troubled past, indoctrinated into a criminal lifestyle from a young age, and having encountered a personal loss that haunts him still. He is a man on the cusp of change, and as he endeavours to turn away from his criminal roots, he meets Diane Alison, with whom he shares a historic connection, but also finds that his one last job is anything but, and, put under extreme emotional pressure, finds himself involved in a dangerous kidnapping plot. Alex is a mercurial man, exuding an air of total calmness whatever the situation, but in reality he is trapped in a maelstrom of self-questioning and doubt, belied by his outward exterior. As his relationship with Diane develops, we see him caught between this cool headed attitude, and an inner turmoil as to how far he wants this relationship to develop, and should he be bucking against the twist of fate, that has brought each of them into the other’s orbit.
Likewise, Diane, the other major protagonist. initially outside of Alex’s criminal cohort until the situation escalates enough for her to bravely ingratiate herself in it, grows from a position of relative emotional weakness, gradually becoming more emboldened as events progress, and seeking to release her son, and Alex’s daughter from the heat of the situation that develops. The way that Parish peels back the layers of both Alex and Diane, ably surrounded by a supporting cast of equally well-drawn characters, is another standout feature of the book, building a creeping unease in the reader as to how events will play out for them, and more importantly will they survive, and change the direction of their lives.
Parish’s choices of locations, Las Vegas, Mexico and Spain, and the way the action develops through each, adds another level of interest to what in a lesser writers’ hands could have been a quite linear set up if rooted in one place. There is a real verve and energy as to how he employs each backdrop as the story progresses, capturing the unique character of each, from the illusional quality of Las Vegas, to the colour and joie de vivre of Mexico, and finally tapping into the rich, ostentatious air of wealthy Marbella, for the book’s stunning and violent denouement. The author ensures that each locale is brought vividly into the readers’ consciousness, with an eye for not only the landscape of the place itself, but how the feel and energy of each imprints itself on those who exist within them.
I thought that Love and Theft was an exceptionally understated and clever book, with the seeming simplicity of the language, and both the alternating quickfire and then the more languorous use of dialogue and action, subtly determining the pace of the book as a whole. I loved the shifting locations, the high octane heist scenes, and the overwhelming sense of poignancy and redemption that lies tantalisingly beneath the main plot itself, evinced in the characters of Alex and Diane. A smooth, sassy and ultimately very satisfying ride indeed. Highly recommended.
STAN PARISH is the former editor-in-chief of The Future of Everything at The Wall Street Journal and the author of the novel Down the Shore. His writing has appeared in GQ, Esquire, Surface, The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications. He holds a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and lives in Los Angeles. Follow Stan Parish on Twitter @stanparish and visit his website here: Stan Parish
(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)
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