Just Thieves

Written by Gregory Galloway

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung

Just Thieves
Melville House Publishing
RRP: £16.99
Released: November 4 2021

The comparison may be thirty-five years old but if you liked David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, then Gregory Galloway’s Just Thieves may be for you. Something of the dream sequences of approaching buildings in the Lynch film seem recalled in the middle sequence of Just Thieves as narrator Rick tries to identify the house in a suburban street where his late partner was last seen. There is a lot more to the book, however, than suburban streets, though Rick and Frank have spent a lot of time sitting in parked cars casing prospective robbery sites.

Rick and Frank are addicts – recovering addicts – who seem to be escaping drugs – just – but not their addiction to theft. They were petty thieves in their youth, even stealing from their friends and acquaintances, but refusing to accept their responsibilities. Rick was introduced to his father’s friend, Froehmer, a strange and dominant character who began to use Rick as a burglar to order. Somewhere along the way, when the drug addiction got Rick into rehab, he met Frank, even more of a sociopath but also an even greater burglar and prestidigitator. Frank has two powers that Rick does not have – patience and surveillance: when Rick would tire of casing a joint, Frank would hold him back, aware that someone else was in the house or returning early.

Rick, though, has something Frank does not: a child and the child’s mother to support. Unfortunately, Rick’s ability to pay such support is dependent on his criminal skills. That leaves Rick open to pressure on a couple of fronts. That Rick has lost the benefit of Frank’s uncanny abilities when Frank is killed, probably murdered, is a handicap. That Rick and Frank’s sister Casey want to solve the murder case when Froehmer wants Rick’s time better spent (if burglary and theft can ever be a better use of time) is going to put Rick under more pressure. Read above, if you want to know what is going to put the pressure on. I’ll stop there.

I’d given Just Thieves a couple of readings before the Blue Velvet comparison came to mind. What was troubling to the reading, though, was a vague idea that I had read this before. In fact, I’ve not but it was when I finished the book that I read the last two pages, “Accomplices and Easy Marks”. What Gregory Galloway has done is slip phrases – dark phrases – from literature into the book, and he identifies the author, scriptwriter and work from which he has taken his “Accomplices”. Blue Velvet is not one of them. The effect is like a subaural hum on a soundtrack – disturbing while being unidentifiable: I identified only two, I think, as I read. Not every reader will like this modern noir: it may seem like pastiche (which is not a new complaint, Raymond Chandler wrote it about Ross MacDonald, for instance).

Last year we had Peter Swanson’s Perfect Murders and Alex Pavisi’s Eight Detectives, both of them premised about Golden Age murders repeating, now Gregory Galloway offers modern noir leavened with the older, darker stuff. Rick is driven into the future by the friend who has just shot him while she tells him she will take of his injury: “It was enough. For now.” That is close to an eternal response. In noir it is the only answer.

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