Book Talk: ‘Thick As Thieves’
A pregnant Arden Maxwell returns to her run-down childhood home in Penton, Texas, and loses the baby on the floor of the local supermarket. Although she doesn’t know it at the time, the man holding her head off the floor is Ledge Burnet, with whom she has a complicated, and sometimes steamy, relationship throughout Sandra Brown’s novel, “Thick as Thieves” (496 pages, hardback; 372 pages, paperback).
Twenty years ago, Arden’s father was set up to be the scapegoat for a half-million-dollar theft. The caper was actually perpetrated by four others, one of whom is now District Attorney Rusty Dyle. The morning after the crime, one of the thieves is in the hospital, one is in jail, one is dead, and one is believed to have gotten away with all the loot.
Ledge refused to take part in the burglary, but in an early chapter there is an attempt to extort him into participating. But Brown keeps us in a bit of suspense about that. What is known, however, is that Arden’s father, the town drunk, disappeared the night of the theft. He is believed to have murdered one of the thieves, and has not been seen since.
Arden chose to return to Penton in order to unravel the mystery about her father’s disappearance. As she moves through the town, renewing old acquaintances and asking disturbing questions, she must deal with Ledge and Rusty, two life-long rivals. Ledge is a war hero who opted for enlistment in the army as an alternative to prison on a phony drug bust, and Rusty has followed his father’s path into a corrupt system of law enforcement. Rusty, a despicable manipulator, takes corruption to the Nth degree.
Brown’s plot is like a game of cat and mouse with Arden being both the catnip and the piece of cheese on the mousetrap. Throughout the book, we are taken back to the night of the heist via flashbacks. Brown stated in an article for Military Press, “I thought about a burglary and what happens to the four participants. I decided to go back in time twenty years ago when the robbery (sic) took place and then switch to the present day. This allowed me to slowly give the sequence of events that brought them to that place in the present day.”
Ledge and Arden are attracted to each other from the get-go, but there are impenetrable secrets between them that keeps them apart through most of the novel. However, the reader knows that a relationship is going to develop, in classic Brown fashion. Yes, that kind of relationship. And, you can count on the kind of twist at the end that you’re least expecting.
I started reading Sandra Brown’s novels more than twenty-five years ago, and I still grab one off the shelves when I spot a new title by her. The writing is tight and smooth, and she handles the violence with finesse.
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.