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David Rich
Caravan of Thieves

E. P Dutton / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-525-95288-6
Publication Date: 08-30-2012
296 Pages; $25.95
Date Reviewed: 09-22-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  Mystery  General Fiction  

The one prison from which we may never escape is our upbringing. For most of us, that's a not a problem; these bars are not barriers. But for Rollie Waters, the bars do not keep him in, but rather out; he'll never live a normal life. His father, the con-artist, made sure of that. But in David Rich's tense, smart 'Caravan of Thieves,' that's the only certainty. Everything else is up in the air.

When we meet Rollie, he's being followed, and not just by the soldiers who want to toss him in the brig. Rollie is used to that kind of thing; as an undercover agent in Afghasistan, it was bread, butter and the breath of life. What's following Rollie that he cannot escape is his past, particularly in the form of his father, a charming con artist who has managed to ensnare his son in a particularly twisty heist involving a significant number of those dollars we heard were being shipped to the Middle east on pallets. The cash deal would be bad enough, but that's just the beginning.

David Rich is a smart writer who knows the virtues of economy and keeps his tale of crime and punishment lean and mean. Setting us up is the voice of Rollie Waters, a chameleonic undercover agent (read: spy) who upon his return to the States finds that hiding and changing your identity is a hard habit to break, particularly when it runs in the family that won't go away quietly. Rollie tends to be laconic and has a desert-dried sense of humor that makes reading the book both fun and somewhat disquieting. He might say something to make you laugh, then do something to make you wince in the same paragraph. It's a compelling combination that makes the pages turn fast.

On the other side of the deceptive divide is Dan, his father, a real charmer who tends to leave a trail of wreckage behind. Where Rollie is capable of swift and certain violence, Dan is more likely to be culpable for the actions of those who follow him. Both are accomplished liars, and that skill proves to be necessary in their world of military crime and ideologues without a conscience. There are innocents here as well, and they seem all-too real in Rich's gritty workaday world, but nonetheless worth saving and offer some balance to the clearly unbalanced drivers of the action.

Rich, a screenwriter, knows well how to stage and block the action scenes in 'Caravan of Thieves,' whether he's delivering stolen supplies in Afghanistan or busting up MP's in a barroom brawl. The book is never frantic, but never less than exciting; often thrilling and intense. He knows that keeping things brisk involves changes in pacing, not just constant acceleration. The character moments are pivotal and engaging, every bit the match of the considerable firepower on display. Rich knows what's important to a good novel; by putting hiss people first and foremost, the bullets, blood and torment are all the more intense.

The prose that pulls all this together is a model of lean transparency. There's nothing overly fancy, nor is anything too stylized. Rich has a strong story to tell, and Rollie is not wasting any words doing so. By weaving two different time streams together, the past becomes the present and the present heads into an increasingly uncertain future. Rollie may not escape the prison of his upbringing, but he is adept at confounding current attempts to confine him.

Rich, too, is adept at keeping readers immersed in a world where identity can be bought, sold, or manufactured with a quick wit and a few lies. Like the con artists he creates, he makes it all look easy and sound utterly plausible. Trapped in the prisons of our normal lives, we want to believe that Rollie is able to escape his.

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