Swierczynski, Duane. The Wheelman.

NY: St. Martin, 2005.

Overall, this is one of the best noir thrillers I’ve read in a long time. But it’s not the sort of thing you want to hand your grandma who’s a fan of Miss Marple and who believes in happy endings.

The protagonist — you certainly can’t call him a “hero” — is Irish-born Patrick Lennon, who helps rob banks for a living, but he’s a specialist. He drives the getaway car. He steals the vehicle, plans the escape route, and pilots the craft, which makes it possible for them all to spend the money. He’s not an especially violent person and he doesn’t usually carry a gun. But all that changes when his crew’s “takeover job” on the Wachovia Bank in downtown Philadelphia goes badly awry. Someone has sold them out and the fleeing robbers end up getting robbed themselves, and mostly killed. All but Lennon. He’s a tough son of a bitch. Still, he has to fight his way out of a pipe at a riverside construction site before the concrete gets poured. And now he wants his $650,000 back. But things get complicated, beginning with Katie, who was supposed to meet him at a resort in Puerto Rico but who has now come looking for him. And there are the two young robbers who robbed the robbers, and who have now taken Lennon’s place in the pipe. One is the son of a rising Russian mafya boss in Philly while the other is the boyfriend of the daughter of one of the declining Italian mafiosi. Not to mention Saugherty, disgraced ex-cop, who sees a good thing for himself in all this mayhem.

This would make an excellent Coen Brothers or Tarentino film, with bodies on every page and everybody double-crossing everybody else, often several times over. The violence is often explicit but there are also numerous moments of very dark humor. The ending, frankly, is a bit weak, but . . . well, it ends. Everything. And there definitely won’t be a sequel.

Published in: on 29 November 2013 at 5:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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