Among Thieves
John Clarkson
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Buy *Among Thieves* by John Clarksononline

Among Thieves
John Clarkson
St. Martin's Paperbacks
576 pages
March 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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This is a serious crime story with a riveting plot, contemporary characters operating in a world made smaller by technology and dependent on four loyal men who have survived harrowing experiences together. The core characters (anchored by James Beck, an ex-con, and his partners Demarco Jones, Manny Guzman and Ciro Baldassare) are all friends from their years of incarceration, each tested in his own way. Flying under the radar by design with no desire to return to prison, the four men are partners in the ownership of a private bar in Brooklyn’s Red Hook district. There they pursue their private business interests and reach out to other ex-cons in need of assistance, sort of a modern-day band of Robin Hood and his Merry Men who have cut their teeth in the system and plan to survive outside it.

The die is cast from the first page, when Demarco informs Beck, “Manny wants to kill somebody.” A stoic man of few words but the look of incipient violence, Manny Guzman “was the kind of man they’d built Dannemora for”--hard, inscrutable, dangerous and loyal. Beck understands the black-and-white nature of the world Guzman inhabits, but also that his friend will accept his direction in creating the solution to his current problem: Manny’s cousin, Olivia Lopez, who works at a small Wall Street brokerage, has been roughly handled by a man at her firm. Alan Crane, a hotshot investment trader, has specifically threatened Olivia not to interfere in his business. An emergency room visit, a police report, and a session with Human Resources have gotten Olivia fired and blackballed, effectively robbing Olivia of any future success she may have achieved. Frustrated, Lopez turns to Manny.

It is an unusual scenario, to say the least, the ex-cons who go out of their way to avoid attracting attention and the Wall Street wheelers and dealers betting on margin calls, trading on risk for outrageous profits. Beck proposes a solution, one that involves a simple proposition and a short meeting with Olivia’s boss, Milstein. In a small brokerage like Milstein’s, strong competition from the larger firms exerts considerable pressure for traders pushing boundaries for profit; hence, Crane’s risky trading methods. Beck tailors a solution to satisfy both Olivia and the firm, requiring an appropriate payout--as well as an apology from Crane. Unfortunately, the meet doesn’t provide the expected reaction, and Beck moves onto the next phase of conflict resolution. An explosive confrontation with Crane changes the tenor of the situation, exploding into a nightmare that verges on all-out war with a crew of combatants that include Russian arms dealer Leonid Markov, Bosnian war criminals-cum-mercenaries, white collar crooks, ex-Special Forces soldiers-for-hire, and even the NYPD.

The only thing missing is a sound track for this brutal opera cast with villains from the most violent conflicts in recent history, an army of mercenaries moving on a small group of ex-cons challenged at every turn, both physically and mentally. Beck veers from one crisis to another, barely rescuing Olivia from a hit by old-school Russian gangsters and a Bosnian obsessed with killing Beck only to turn around and orchestrate the defense of the bar in Red Hook before an attack in the dead of night. The clashes are violent and deadly, Beck’s actions under pressure impressive, even as he resists a nearly overwhelming attraction to the delicious Olivia that could seriously cloud his judgment. There’s no time for romance and no room for mistakes. From a brutal, bone-breaking street fight in the first pages to the shuffling of millions of dollars from Wall Street to an offshore account, Clarkson never misses a beat. Every loose thread is accounted for, every issue addressed in a spectacular, bloody tour d’ force that pits the four friends resolved never to return to prison against a wild assortment of bad guys, greedy opportunists, mercenaries, and stone killers. You can’t help but root for the underdogs and cheer every teeth-grinding, bone-shattering battle.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2015

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