AMONG THIEVES by David Hosp

Book Quote:

“People have searched for these paintings for twenty years,” she said. “The police, the FBI, Interpol, private detectives, insurance detectives, art historians, treasure hunters. People have spent an enormous amount of energy trying to find these things, but no one has done it yet. There have been lots of theories about who was responsible. The most popular is that the IRA teamed up with the Boston mob to do the job, then split the take between the two groups.”

Book Review:

Review by Kirstin Merrihew (MAR 1, 2010)

Among Thieves opens its prologue with a man from Ireland named Liam about to finish off “a lump of flesh curled in front of him on the cement floor.” He had tortured “the lump” for information that he had not gotten. While looking down at the man, Murphy, Liam remembered how, when he was a child in Belfast, a vengeance killing left him the only survivor in his immediate family. This grisly event had put him on his current path of mayhem and murder.

Next, Boston attorney Scott Finn enters the Nashua Street Jail to visit Devon Malley, a guy he knew back in the day when he wasn’t such an upstanding citizen either. Devon is in the joint for what looks like a smash-and-grab at a very expensive clothing and lingerie store. But as Scott, his paralegal, Lissa Krantz, and his investigator, Tom Kozlowski, soon discover, defending Devon is no piece of cake. Not to mention this could well become a pro bono case that could end up costing much more than foregone greenbacks.

And then there is Devon’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Sally (yes, Sally Malley) who needs somewhere to stay while her old man’s in the slammer. Scott knows from personal experience what the foster care system is like and decides to let her stay in his spare room until her father’s bail hearing. Sally, who lived her early years with her druggie mother and had had to fend off some of the men her mom brought home, locks the guest room door just in case. She also puts up the expected teenage wall, and it is up to Scott, Lissa, and Tom to get her to come out from behind it.

Meanwhile, a team of Boston cops and an FBI agent work the case of cut-up-and-dead Murphy, a well-known member of the mob. Then they are called to another crime scene where four men have been shot to death and a fifth one’s body looks like a filleted fish. This second tortured lump is Eddie Ballick, an underworld boss, who would have preferred being a fisherman to a life of crime. Scott had gone to see Ballick about Devon the day before, hoping to get information that he might be able to trade to the prosecution on his client’s behalf about others involved in the store robbery. However, Ballick isn’t cooperative even though he and Scott knew each other way back. When Scott is asked by the police to come answer questions about Ballick’s murder, Scott stalls them. He first goes to the courthouse to try to get bail for Devon. He also tells Devon what happened to Ballick, and that totally changes Devon’s mind about wanting his freedom. He knows only too well he could be next on the vicious killer’s list.

Devon and Liam, as told in Among Thieves, were the two men who robbed the Gardner Museum back in March 1990, getting away with artwork now estimated at over half a billion dollars. And Liam is methodically working through the men most likely to know where the paintings are stashed. However, the Boston mobster at the top of that list is out of Liam’s reach because he’s been on the run for years. That man is Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger.

Bulger is a real person who has made appearances of sorts in various novels including Along Comes a Stranger, by Dorie McCullough Lawson. Whether he makes one in Among Thieves will remain for readers to discover. Whether he does or not, he is considered by this novel to have been one of the men behind the thefts at the Gardner Museum. As the introductory quote notes, the theory that U.S. organized crime partnered with the IRA to pull off this crime is a popular one, and Bulger headed the Boston crime world back then. Ulrich Boser’s The Gardner Heist, a 2008 examination of facts and theories about this unsolved armed robbery, mentions Bulger as a credible culprit, and the author became so engrossed in this possibility that he even traveled to Galway Bay, Ireland thinking he might track Bulger down there.

For Scott Finn and his associates, Liam — who clearly will stop at nothing get his hands on the paintings — is the primary problem, not Bulger. After Devon spills why he got himself arrested in the first place and why he doesn’t want to leave the jail, they realize defending him could also put their lives at grave risk. Without a means to getting at Devon directly, Liam might target one of them — or target Sally. And the prospect of dying like Murphy and Ballick strikes cold fear in the hearts of all the potential victims.

As the magnitude of their client’s criminal past dawns on them, Finn, Tom, and Lissa, in quite realistic and sometimes funny scenes, also become attached to Sally — and she, grudgingly, to them. I did too, which isn’t always the case when an author decides to make a rather unsocial teen into a major character. Anyway, by the time Sally might be sighted in Liam’s crosshairs, Hosp’s trio and readers like me actually want her to survive the novel and to perhaps turn fifteen in Scott Finn’s next adventure. Generally, these four characters are believable people for whom one gladly roots. The same can be said for the police partners, about whom Hosp provides some interesting back story.

David Hosp’s threesome of Finn, Krantz, and Kozlowski reminds me somewhat of Michael Connelly’s best-seller fictional defense attorney, Mikey Haller, and his own squad of associates. For example, Haller’s investigator, Dennis Wojchiechowski, and his assistant, Lorna Taylor, are an item, and this parallels the relationship of Tom and Lissa. While reading Among Thieves, I thought of Connelly’s The Brass Verdict a few times. Although their plots are not that similar, both Finn and Haller have to deal with less than forthcoming or cooperative clients and must mull over some serious legal ethics issues.

Finn and Haller also have in common that they each “star” in a book series. In Finn’s case, Dark Harbor and Innocence, have both been quite enthusiastically received by the public and critics.

Unlike Connelly, Hosp is an attorney. Whether this primary profession gives him a leg up or he simply has a knack for writing clear legal suspense, this novel is easily followed by readers without a legal background. Once though I thought Hosp had decided he was writing for fourth graders who hadn’t learned their fractions or percentages yet: “In her fifteen years on the detective squad, she’d cleared over seventy-five percent of her cases. That meant if a case was assigned to her, three out of four times someone was convicted of the crime.” And then, two sentences later, Hosp again turned math teacher. But that’s a minor quibble.

What really happened to the stolen Gardner art remains shrouded in mystery, but Among Thieves has done its homework regarding the facts that are available and the conjectures that have grown from those facts. The novel’s practically minute-by-minute scenario of how the heist might have gone down is entirely plausible. The trick for someone writing about this monumental, real unsolved art crime is devising a conclusion that supplies adequate resolution and yet doesn’t violate what the the real world knows to be true about the paintings. Hosp meets those requirements ingeniously. The climax of Hosp’s Among Thieves revs the drama and steps up the unpredictability.The tension mounts as Liam, Devon, Sally, our three musketeers, and the cops and feds all converge. Some of them won’t breathe much longer. All because a man who once knifed masterpieces from their frames desperately wants possession of them again.

Bookdom’s legal thriller genre isn’t a lonely place; Hosp’s series faces stiff competition. However, it can stand up to it and shoulder out pedestal space all its own.

Bibliography:

Scott Finn series

Stand-alone:


AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 60 readers
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (January 11, 2010)
REVIEWER: Kirstin Merrihew
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: David Hosp
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Dark Harbor

The Betrayed

And other Boston Mystery writers:

Dennis Lehane

William G. Tapply

Richard Marinick

John F. Dobbyn

March 1, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,  В· Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, NE & New York, Sleuths Series

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