Caravan of Thieves by David Rich is an action-packed but humorous debut thriller (available August 30, 2012).
Rollie Waters has no intention of paying for the sins of his father Dan. Rollie is going to make others pay, and he is going to use the tricks and tactics his charming, enigmatic con artist father taught him—and a few he dreams up along the way—to make it all happen. Dan taught Rollie how to stay two steps ahead of trouble and how to offer cheap gifts with one hand while stealing the family silver with the other. But, unlike Dan, Rollie is not a criminal.
After he’s yanked out of his latest assignment and tossed in the brig, he’s only partly surprised when the officials in charge mention that U.S. government money—a lot of money—has gone missing, and they think Rollie’s father took it. The only way to find Dan is to trace the frail tendrils of truth scattered among Rollie’s childhood memories. To do that, he’ll have to go deep into the undercover identity of a lifetime: his own.
The relationship between the gifted prince of thieves, Dan, and his equally gifted but honest son, Rollie, is at the epicenter of this well-written novel. Rollie has a love-hate relationship with his father. He loves Dan for some of the things he taught him and for some of the scarce but magical moments they spent together; he hates Dan for who he is: a thief unlike any other, someone who could sell you a house twice and make you thank him for it both times.
My father didn’t teach me much except how to lie, cheat, and steal, and then lie, lie, lie some more. Mostly it was by example. I was rebellious and stuck to the truth, maybe because I knew I could never live up to the standard he set. I have paid the price for not following his example, but I’m trying to get my head right. I won’t say I lie with the smooth skill and frequency he did, but I won’t say I don’t either. Somehow the Marines sensed my natural ability in this direction and sent me undercover while in Afghanistan. Mission completed I went from undercover to under a cloud. And that cloud followed me all the way home.
And a heavy cloud it was—that of an all-powerful general of the U.S. Army, called Remington. Rollie Waters served with the general’s son in Afghanistan and saw him doing something illegal. So Rollie reported him, but that only helped to make Rollie a target; how big a target he’s about to find out as he returns back home, where strange things are happening.
Rollie is someone who knows how to read people and who, thanks to his dear father, is suspicious of everyone. And he’s someone who doesn’t turn his back on a fight, which is exactly what will land him in trouble and lead to his arrest. He’ll end up in a cell where, “Time was thicker than the air and that was fine with me.”
But he won’t remain there for long; the army needs him. His commanding officer Colonel Gladden will set him free, under one condition: he must find his father and retrieve the money stolen from some army bandits who somehow managed to smuggle it out of Iraq. Rollie has no choice but to accept the mission, even though he doesn’t seem to like the colonel much:
The colonel sat back in his chair as if intending to leap out when the g-forces abated. His face was a shrine to rage and resentment. Somewhere along the line, he must have noticed it, or noticed how others reacted, and decided to try to hide it with false ease and tinny relaxation. The result was a nasty hiss and eyes that seemed reluctant to focus. His online bio said that he was only forty-two, but he looked at least ten years older and probably had since he was a teenager. Maybe it was because his blood was always boiling.
Well, Rollie’s blood is boiling too, but for a different reason: now he seems to hate the army as much as anything, yet he’s ordered to complete another impossible mission for it since nobody but he can find Dan.
So, having no other choice, he sets off on his journey accompanied by a Treasury Department official named Shaw and two goons from the Military Police, and followed by the men of retired Colonel Frank McColl, who has his own agenda and a lot of means at his disposal. The more time Rollie spends in this situation, the more frustrated he becomes. No, he’s not sorry that he’s going after his father, but he’s really angry with his superiors who hide behind secrets and lies, the special treatment offered to certain people and the unjust handling of others, and finally the many twists and turns in his life. He doesn’t seem to know where he’s heading anymore; he’s lost his sense of direction, though his moral compass remains intact.
Maybe in the end it all comes down to the relationship between a father and a son; a relationship that may be turbulent, but still has some meaning to the parties involved:
Father and son with fish, beer, cigars, sunshine, and water. A borrowed boat and borrowed time, unless McColl conveniently had a heart attack. And Shaw, too. I spent the time listening unless he asked and prodded for war stories. My reluctance must have come off as youthful sullenness, but I was struggling to isolate each of my resentments and squash them. I wanted to make sure I had Dan right. Filling in that picture had been a lifetime quest, with all the gathered evidence and clues snatched from fleeting moments together or observations of Dan with his women, his cronies, his victims. Now it was uninterrupted access and I couldn’t stop staring into the fire, even though I knew I should run.
He didn’t run; instead he kept going, and going; until he discovered the truth, uncovered all the lies, brought to light all the conspirators in this hazardous game. But did the truth set him free? Did he find redemption for the sins he didn’t commit?
Caravan of Thieves brilliantly mixes mystery, action, psychology, and humor. Dan, just as much as Rollie, or even more so, is a masterfully crafted character, an open book and an enigma at the same time. He’s stubborn, and sleek, and funny; someone who even after the end of the book keeps showing up in the reader’s thoughts and puts a smile on his face. As far as debuts go this is a great one.
Lakis Fourouklas has published four novels and three short-story collections in Greek. He’s currently translating his work into English and blogs at Fiction & More. He also keeps a few blogs in Greek regarding general fiction, Japanese literature, and crime fiction. Follow him on Twitter: @lakisf. He lives in the wilderness of Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Read all posts by Lakis Fourouklas for Criminal Element.