Saturday, August 8, 2009


Here's my review of Marcus Sakey's THE AMATEURS, running today in the Chicago Tribune:


The Amateurs
By Marcus Sakey
(Dutton; $25.95)

In Marcus Sakey's last book, the excellent Good People, a Chicago couple strapped for cash accidently stumble on a large amount of it and wind up in a lot of trouble. “Accidentally” is the operative word here.

But there's nothing accidental about the way the four friends who gather every Thursday night at a restaurant called Rossi's on Lincoln decide to rob the owner of money and whatever else they can find – drugs, hopefully, because John Loverin (known to all who loathe him as Johnny Love) is a minor league dealer.

“It used to be that when I went out on a Saturday night, I'd have this lightness inside, this openness, says Jenn, a travel agent, the only female in the foursome. “The night could could go anywhere. I could meet somebody incredible, or dance in a fountain, or have a conversation that would blow my mind... I don't get that much anymore. Now I just go out, I come home, I go to work... There's no meaning to any of it...”

Mitch, whose job as a doorman leaves him full of resentment and rage, and whose obvious love for Jenn is unrequited and even mocked, tells us, “It was funny. When the four of them had started hanging out, they'd all had other people they thought of as their 'real' friends. But time kept passing, and those other people got married, or moved away, or just got lazy in that late-twenties way, never leaving their house, always saying they'd love to get together, but never doing it. And so Thursday nights went from optional to mandatory...”

“That's just it. We're not criminals. We're normal people. No one, not the cops, not Johnny, no one would look at us,” rationalizes Ian – a coke-snorting stockbroker heavily in debt to a nasty gangster. The fourth member of the group is the bartender at Rossi's, Alex – Jenn's lover and a man very afraid of losing his visitation rights to his 10-year-old daughter.

Despite some serious doubts on Mitch's part, and because Jenn seems to be committed, the plans for the robbery move along quickly. Meanwhile, a man called Bennett, one of the scariest villains in recent memory, is introduced – first as he blackmails a medical scientist into whipping up a top secret formula for some very exotic drug, and later when he turns his vengeance loose on the four thieves who took his merchandise.

The crime itself quickly becomes a a bloody nightmare. People wind up dead. Alex's daughter is put in danger. Worst of all, the tenuous connections between the four friends unravel, leaving The Amateurs' readers gasping with fright and pleasure at Sakey's genius.

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