by Christopher Reich
Mulholland Books, 2018
Veteran thriller writer Christopher Reich's new book, The Take, is a lean and confident thing; right from its first page, reading it is like watching a nature documentary clip of a cheetah in full hunting stride on the African savannah – everything is sleek and perfectly designed, with an unblinking gaze and not a single movement even a fraction wasted. Reich's last six or seven books were likewise luxuriantly efficient things, but The Take is the first to feel like a kind of beneficiary of all that experience. It's more relaxed around its edges, and even in its hyper-fast pace it maintains a winking sense of humor.
The story opens with the introduction of our hero, Simon Riske (naturally he's not called Floyd Westinghouse), who's currently a humble London restorer of Ferraris and Lamborghinis but has been in his day a discreet problem-solver, high-stakes thief, and occasional ally of the British Secret Service. He's charismatic and capable, a character-description in search of an actor:
He was a compact man, an American, markedly fit in a bespoke navy suit, white cotton shirt open at the collar. His hair was dark and thick, receding violently at the temples, and cut to the nub with a number two razor. He had his father's dark complexion and brooding good looks and his mother's beryl-green eyes. People mistook him for a European – Italian, Slavic, something Mediterranean. His nose was too bold, too chiseled. His chin, too strong. Take off the suit, add a day's stubble, and he'd fit in hooking bales of Egyptian cotton across a dock in Naples.
But the book's real plot kicks into motion with the other main character, master thief (and Riske's one-time partner in crime, before the inevitable betrayal among thieves left them mortal enemies) Tino Coluzzi, who's in Paris to pull of the heist of a lifetime: stealing the briefcase of a Saudi prince who's rumored to like traveling with enormous amounts of cash. Tino's job is more successful than he imagines: along with the cash, the briefcase also contains a note – a quick little document with explosive international ramifications if its contents were ever revealed. “No man should be in possession of this note,” Tino tells himself. “Not the chief of the Saudi secret police. Not an American spy who arranged meetings in luxury hotels. Most of all, not a lifelong bandit who'd been lying and stealing since he could say 'Give me all your money or else.'”
Given his laid-back lifestyle, Riske might well have refused when the CIA comes to him hoping to retrieve that note before it's made public – but he can't resist the chance to get even with Tino, and so the chase is on, with (as is customary in such plots) a whole company of extra players equally keen to hunt down the note and kill everybody connected with it.
It's admittedly familiar territory, but Reich writes it as though it were new. His energy never flags or falters for even so much as a participle, and he keeps the plot twists coming literally until the book's final page. International crime-thrillers don't come much more smoothly done than this.
Steve Donoghue was a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the American Conservative. He writes regularly for the National, the Washington Post, the Vineyard Gazette, and the Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.