November 25, 2009

BOOKS: The Amateurs, Marcus Sakey (2009)

Alex is divorced and fears that he's failing his young daughter. Jenn is a travel agent who dreams of living the adventures she sells to others. Ian's a broker with serious coke and gambling problems. And Mitch is a wimp.

These four friends find themselves, in their early 30s, dissatisfied with life but with no idea how to make things any better. So when the opportunity to steal a couple hundred thousand bucks from Alex's boss comes along, they see it as the perfect chance to change their lives. And it's a perfect plan. Who would suspect them, after all? They're not criminals.

It will come as no surprise that their maiden venture into the world of crime goes horribly wrong; much of the fun in the first few chapters of Sakey's thriller is trying to guess just how they're going to screw things up. The second half of the book, when these four schmucks find themselves trying frantically to outsmart the professional bad guys, doesn't quite match the fun of the setup, but Sakey keeps things moving along quickly. And I very much appreciated that he didn't force an absurdly sunny ending on the situation; not all of our four protagonists get what they're looking for.

The characters are a bit on the thin side, and Mitch's miraculous transformation from milquetoast to criminal mastermind is wildly implausible, but on the whole, The Amateurs is an efficient thriller; the villains are evil, and the heroes are both brave and stupid, which is an entertaining combination.

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