Stan Parish, “Love and Theft” (2020) (read aloud by Angelo DiLoreto) – Fun fact: I found this book while searching to see if there was an audiobook version of the classic history of blackface minstrelsy of the same title! There isn’t, for now, but there is this. This was a pretty fun heist novel! Alex is a classic “dadcore” heist dude, a smooth consummate professional who keeps it tight and keeps it cool- no random violence (not that he can’t get down if he needs to!), no unplanned jobs, no big talk. After a bold, motorcycle-based Las Vegas jewelry heist, Alex goes to suburban New Jersey to lay low for a while and attend some ketamine parties (??). At one, he meets Diane, a pretty lady, and they get into each other real fast.
Also, it turns out they knew each other during dirtbag eighties days in Atlantic City! This was the beginning of Alex’s career in high end crime, and Alex got out of town fast after his best friend (and Diane’s babydaddy!) got killed. Alex, guided by some Mexican smuggler friends, got into heists, Diane got into catering and raising her kid, who turned out to be an ok young man by the time Alex shows back up.
It’s a whirlwind romance, of the type pursued by people who get bored of their adopted upper middle class circumstances! They go to Tulum, on the Mexican coast, for vacation. Alex wants to give up the life, especially because Diane, you know, she’s cool but not that kind of cool. His friends, mostly gay ex-cop fixer Ben, are cool with that, more or less. But another Alex — well, Alejandro — has other plans. Alejandro runs the coast for one of the cartels. His bosses need Alex to do a boss, taking down a Chinese fentanyl manufacturer as he meets with some Russian exporters in a Spanish beach town (got all that?). You can probably figure out what Alejandro uses to force Alex into the job!
Parish is a good action writer. That’s not as easy as it sounds. He has a lot of moving parts in some of these sequences, and I’m not going to say it’s always possible to keep track of who is doing what, where, but it’s still fun. The twist end was… decent. Well-done, but you knew it was either DEFINITELY going to be it or definitely NOT, if that makes sense…
It’s a fun, though often odd, book. Like Michael Mann — there’s a lot of Michael Mann here — Stan Parish likes to linger in the worlds of the contemporary globalized rich, these nether-spaces devoted to commodity fetishism. Parish (and Mann, and a lot of thriller writers/filmmakers)treats this as almost the only world, even as their character despise most of its habitues- the rich are the geeks, gawking at the show and stuffing their faces, Mann and Parish’s criminals and cops are the ones running behind the scene and occasionally causing bloody disruption to it all. Let’s be honest- who’s ever been anywhere even as fancy as the Natick Collection and —hasn’t— wanted to see some chaos break out?
There is a part of me that rather wishes that Parish (Neal Stephenson, now that his characters and one suspects he himself hangs out in the anodyne world of the crazy rich, too- Mann’s another story because of his visual chops) would get a bit weirder with it. Let’s put it this way- Alejandro is the most interesting character, because he’s both out of fits into the story, and he hints at a world outside of it: he’s a former yoga instructor and a Mayan, his people having lived on that coast from time immemorial, who got involved with the cartel to keep the riff raff off the land, and who accepted everything that came with that deal. Things don’t need to utterly abandon verisimilitude for random bullshit (like, it seems, some online critical subcultures suggest) to let in some of the world outside of what you’d see at a high end airport lounge. The world is big! If nothing else, as someone who moves in this world, among others who move and occasionally do a thing, for reasons other than money or sociopathy, it’d be nice to see that reflected… but I can’t complain if thriller writers don’t anticipate my self/friend-insert desires. ****