“We don’t really talk about it. Even when I was little I could tell she didn’t want to. They met at a restaurant, had a one-night stand. What’s she gonna tell me? That he snores? That he tips well?”
“You never wondered?”
“Are you lying to me or to yourself?”
Tom laughs. “You read minds now?”
“It’s in your face. You’re high as shit and you can’t admit you want to know more? If you can’t admit that to me — hey, no problem. We just met. But admit that to yourself.”
“Okay,” he says. “I can admit that. I still don’t think it matters.”
“No, you’re right about that. It won’t change anything. At some point you have to figure out who you want to be no matter who they are. Or were. And the knowledge doesn’t always help, believe me. Hey, I can’t stand out here. Can you carry me?”
The unbearable weight of family is not an uncommon theme in crime entertainment — see a solid, oh, 70% of every gangster film ever made — but in Stan Parish’s luminous (yeah, I said it! It’s luminous) heist novel, Love and Theft, that theme is polished to a gleaming, glittering sheen and presented to the reader in a crisp 272 pages. It’s been months since I’ve stayed up late to finish a novel, but that’s what I did last night with Love and Theft, and perhaps it was a bad idea; my heart was pounding up until the very last page, making it somewhat difficult to calm down enough to go to sleep once I was done.
The novel kicks off in a dizzying fashion. Something ominous and strange seems to be happening at a Las Vegas hotel and casino. Through a series of cinematic vignettes — from the point of view of a fifth-grade boy, a security guard, a valet attendant, a cop, a manicurist, and more — we are quickly made to understand that this something is an elaborate heist of a very, very expensive diamond necklace from a small shop deep within the protected environs of the sprawling casino complex.
After this initial jolt of an introduction, things slow down for about 100 pages. We get to know Alex Cassidy, the mastermind of the jewel theft, and Diane Alison, a caterer and single mom with a keen sense of observation. They quickly fall in love, but on a trip to Tulum with their adult children, they discover their pasts are dangerously tangled, and their future together depends on pulling off one last heist. Unlike previous heists, which the obsessive, meticulous Alex takes months or years to plan, for this one, they have four days.
The setup of their relationship, their shared history, and how Alex got into this sordid business in the first place is leisurely, but never drags. Every detail feeds into something greater, making the concluding 150 pages breathless and satisfying.
Parish excels at plotting that’s messy in a natural way. Things don’t line up artificially here; there’s nothing tidy about the world he’s created, glamorous and dingy by turns. But I’d argue Parish’s plotting, while brilliant, isn’t what carries this novel. It is, rather, the relationships between these characters — Alex, Diane, Alex’s captivating daughter Paola and Diane’s son Tom — and, most crucially, their dialogue, that forms the book’s gorgeous foundation. It’s rare to read dialogue this well-formed and entertaining (the last book I read with conversations as enthralling as this was Kiley Reid’s Such A Fun Age), and here, it’s noir-like, snappy and sharp. I’d love to see it adapted, though the risk of seeing it butchered with the wrong energy does make me nervous.
Like the lively dialogue, Parish’s descriptions are compact and clever. In one scene, we meet a group of young, unemployed bullfighters: they’re jostling beside the pool, violence in the air, before they quickly and startlingly transition to salsa dancing. The scene shocks and delights the onlookers; by the end of the book, it will become clear that one of these rowdy young men conceals an astute genius that goes above and beyond that Alex needs for his heist. In another, we’re allowed insight into Diane’s dissatisfaction and sadness about her life in a mere two sentences:
“For years, she had been prone to spells of depression that lasted weeks and sometimes months before they burned off like a fog. Every bout left her lower than it found her and she sometimes wondered if life amounted to the gradual relinquishment of happiness, a war lost inch by inch.”
I delayed reading Love and Theft. I received it months ago, but thrillers aren’t my favorite genre; I’m often left unsatisfied, as if I’ve been swept over the story without ever getting allowed down and in. This novel took what was already a delightful streak of great reading the past few weeks and turned it up to eleven. If you want a book that grabs you by the hand and doesn’t let go even after you’ve turned the last page, pick up Love and Theft. It’s out now.
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