Thieves Like Us (1937)
You've got to feel sorry for the guy who originates a genre. When he creates his work it's so original and exciting that it spawns a legion of imitators, but decades down the road, when folks pick up that seminal work, it feels dated and derivative. This seems to be the case with Thieves Like Us. When it was published, Anderson was compared to Faulkner and Hemingway. Then it looks like the book experienced lengthy periods when it was out of print, experienced revivals when it was twice adapted for the movies and currently enjoys a fairly strong reputation as a representative noir crime story from the Depression, along the lines of Hammett or Chandler. Now those are some pretty weighty comparisons to be throwing around, and I don't know that they are fair, but the book will stand quite nicely on it's own.
Anderson tells the story of three convicts: Elmo "Chicamaw" Mobley, T.W. "T-Dub" Masefield and Bowie Bowers, who escape from an Alcatona, OK prison in 1935 and return to the only jobs they are any good at--robbing banks. The three quickly pile up a tidy sum of cash and start living high on the hog, at which point the story focusses on Bowers and his courtship of a young girl named Keechie. The plot elements are familiar: folks don't mind the boys robbing banks because so many lost their bank deposits in the Crash that they figure bankers are thieves, alcohol and gambling eat away at the money pretty quickly, everyone dreams of going straight and just needs a little sum of ready cash to do so but that cash always seems to disappear, young lovers go on the lam, there's sensationalistic press coverage and when the boys set out to commit one last robbery, we're fairly sure there's trouble ahead. But it's all deftly handled, in spare, punchy prose and, except for some brief sermonizing about evil capitalists, it's reasonably free of working class cant; a seminal work of crime fiction.
-The Handbook of Texas: ANDERSON, EDWARD EWELL (1905-1969)
-REVIEW: of Crime Novels : American Noir of the 1930s and 40s WITH THE PROPER SELECTION, THERE'S NO NEED TO FEAR THE DARK (Katherine A. Powers, Boston Globe)
-REVIEW: of CRIME NOVELS: American Noir of the 1930s and '40s (EARL L. DACHSLAGER, Houston Chronicle)
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