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Onyx reviews: Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan

Publicists are promoting Chuck Hogan as the next Michael Connelly or Dennis Lehane, but Hogan is very much his own writer, even if he may have strayed into Lehane territory, the rough outer edges of Boston.

In this case it's Charlestown, famous among the F.B.I. as the per capita leader in bank robberies. Doug MacRay is the titular prince of thieves, the leader of a gang that has elevated bank robbing to a fine art. Nothing they do is spontaneous. Every move is mapped out weeks, sometimes months, in advance. They know personal things about the bank employees that can be used as leverage during the crime. If a robber can tell a manager or a guard the name of his wife and kids and where he lives, he is much less likely to cause problems.

The four robbers have been thrust together by circumstance and fate. Some of them are friends; others are uneasy allies. Doug comes by his profession honestly-his estranged father is currently serving time in prison and planning his next big caper when he gets out.

Though the book details the gang's capers, it is really Doug's story. His mother left when he was young and he blames his father for the family's break-up. He was once drafted to a major league hockey team, but he blew his big chance when he started a fight during a game-with a member of his own team. Alcohol entered his life, and has been a huge factor ever since. He's now on the wagon, dry for two years and faithfully attending AA meetings, struggling with his addiction and anger every day. His cohorts have little sympathy for his situation and regularly offer him booze, determined to keep him at their level.

The only thing he has to show for his crimes is an expensive car that he continuously restores and rarely drives. He steals almost as much for the thrill as for the money. His determination to improve his lot in life makes him different from the others, who fear that one day he is going to break free from their grip and move on to something else, leaving them behind. Probably bound for prison when they push their luck a little too far.

Doug has done his jail time and he never wants to go behind bars again. However, he enters a strange and dangerous phase when he becomes enamored of the attractive bank manager who was the victim of their most recent robbery. He staked her out before the crime and continues his vigilance afterward, observing her delayed response to the traumatic experience. He orchestrates accidental encounters with her and they start dating, although she has no idea that he was involved with the robbery.

Complicating matters is the F.B.I. bank robbery expert on the gang's trail, who is also attracted to the bank manager. The federal agent and Doug become romantic rivals, though only Doug knows exactly who everyone is in this complex triangle. Wanting nothing more than to pull himself out of his dead-end life, Doug agrees to one last, big hit, a so-called marquee robbery, the kind they've ordinarily shunned because the associated publicity and media scrutiny brings unwanted attention.

Prince of Thieves is moody, pensive and angst-ridden. The characters crackle with life, depth and unwise choices, and readers will feel their individual senses of frustration and yearning as even the worst among them strives to be the best person he can be.

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