Review: “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan

princeofthieves.jpgWhen I’m looking for something breezy to read the first person I always ask for recommendations is my dad. The guy has read more detective fiction, more lawyerly novels, more “plausible” sci-fi actioners than just about anyone I know. I’m pretty convinced if he wanted to he could write one of these novels in his sleep.

Once, he was reading a book by Chuck Hogan titled Prince of Thieves and I joked, “what is that some kind of Robin Hood novel?”

Little did I know that in the future people would use this same joke on me except whenever it happened I had the distinct urge to punch them in the face.

But I digress. No, it’s not about Robin Hood, he said. It’s about bank robbers from The Town.

Ahhh. And yes, that is Cliff’s version of Hogan’s existential novel about bank robbers from Charlestown, Mass. Set in 1996, on the dawn of the internet and computer revolution and gentrification in Boston, when robbing banks was a somewhat plausible career choice, Prince of Thieves isn’t so much about bank robbers as it is about one in particular. We’ll get to that in a second.

We pick up the story in Kenmore Square at a local Bay Bank (which would get bought by Fleet Bank and that would in turn get eaten up by Bank of America and that’s today’s lesson on bank mergers in Boston over the last decade), it’s getting robbed by four professionals, who are meticulous and careful. But just when everything seems to be going well, one of the robbers goes mental and beats down the bank manager. We’ve got a loose canon – any chance his loose canonness will come back to hurt the gang in the end?

Anyway, the robbers get away and first to arrive on the scene is FBI Agent Adam Frawley (think Ed Norton). He’s a bank robbing specialist and is determined to bring this crew down. The cat and mouse game is complicated even further when both Frawley and Townie crew leader Doug MacRay fall for the same damaged bank employee, Claire Keesey.

What could come off as pap turns into a somewhat cliche plotted yarn, but one that is a page turner nonetheless. Hogan layers his characters with baggage so severe you wonder if the weight of it will crash them into the abyss. Central to all this is Doug MacRay.

A former Townie hockey star, MacRay is running from the ghosts of his father, the expectations of an insulated city, the pressure to hold his crew together, the temptation to drink again and the desire to get out from under the only life he’s ever known.

It’s all heady stuff and Hogan pulls it off so convincingly; the final denouement, a daytime heist of Fenway Park and a classic shoot’em up that is as gripping and tragic as the rest of the novel is smarter and tenser than most of the fiction in this genre.

You almost can’t wait for the film version, which is supposedly in production this year and being directed by Adrien Lynne. We mentioned Ed Norton, but if we could suggest reuniting Matt Damon, The Affleck Brothers and possibly throwing in a Leo DiCaprio here in Oysterland we’d be much obliged.

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  • Gary Glasser February 11, 2009, 6:50 pm

    Excellent review of "Prince of Thieves". I, too, was thrown by the title. I got it at the 99.9 cents store which was good for me, but a shame, I would have gladly paid full price (or near that). It was certainly a page turner and Doug is a great conflicted anti-hero. Although I knew how it all had to end (as will most avid thriller/mystery/crime readers), it was a hell of a ride and a hell of a read getting there. The details that Chuck put in made the book even more enjoyable and the terms ("surv") and weapons and ordnance descriptions all created more authenticity to this fast-paced and very moving story. I am going to find all his other books.