Cover Art by Keith Draws https://keithdraws.wordpress.com/
John L Monk blogs:
Two years ago, I wrote Thief’s Odyssey from a sense of frustration with Hollywood movies that depict thieves … I wanted to write the kind of story that really fleshed out the myth of the “Master Thief.” Someone who looks at what he does as almost an art, does it for the challenge alone, and isn’t constantly promising his girlfriend, “This is the last job, baby, I swear…then we’ll get that white picket fence.” I also wanted to show realistic depictions of safecracking, lock picking, the bypassing of alarms, hacking, identity theft, and even smuggling.
…One of my big inspirations when writing Thief’s Odyssey was Bill Mason’s non-fiction memoir, Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief — highly recommended.
Highly NOT recommended, says the woman who still hasn’t forgiven whoever stole her cheap bicycle back in college, nor the creepy intruder who left a cigarette butt in her apartment while she was away. Not cool, people! Don’t buy into the idea that it is.
DISCLAIMER #1: I did not want to like this book. Americans are notorious for their love affair with outlaws, and in my foolish youth, I was as smitten as anyone with Butch Casssidy and Sundance. I outgrew that. John L Monk did not. Worse, it isn’t the fast-shooting, range-riding, Stetson-hatted men of old he glorifies; it’s some petty, modern day guy who fancies himself an “uncommon” thief. Still worse, Monk gives readers explicit and lurid details on how to break into a house and crack a safe. Worst of all, a respectable citizen tells Bo the burglar, “It is intriguing, sneaking around and cracking safes and all that. If I didn’t have so many responsibilities, I might bother you to have me along one time.” Gaah!!
DISCLAIMER #2: I bought this book (when it was on sale for 99 cents) so that nobody could say I was beholden to the author for a review. I’ve 5-starred everything of John Monk’s since I first downloaded “Kick” on a Kindle Free-Today deal, and was taken aback by how well written, engaging and memorable the story is. Few Indie Authors are as polished and professional as this. “Kick” is better than most of the Big Six publications.
DISCLAIMER #3: After reading “Kick,” I stalked the author via Facebook and Twitter, and we continue to correspond via email. I’ve read and loved all the authors in his “Awesome Indies” blog project. A few months ago, I beta-read an early version of this novel, “Thief’s Odyssey,” which was written before “Kick.” While there was much to love about it, there were certain things that had me up in arms. I could not endorse a protagonist who is a thief. I have a deep-rooted grudge against common thieves and uncommon ones and every kind of thief in between.
But then there’s the foster kids.
“I am but a humble burglar,” Bo says, “one who happened to grow up in the United States at a time when even foster kids had computers and cellphones and other gadgets.” Bo is good with the gadgets, but don’t ask him where his parents are. Foster kids know the code: saying your parents were “on vacation” is “a term everyone understood to mean they were in prison. My own mother was one such case, currently serving lifelong vacation in North Carolina for murdering my father.” Ouch. And ooh, what great prose!
With a few well chosen words, Monk nails the sorry situation of foster kids. The whole novel could have been about them, and I wouldn’t have missed the roller-coaster thrills of — well, all the plot spoilers I won’t mention here. I will say Bo has anger management issues, which surface in ways that are comical and disastrous, but also poignant, provoking sympathy even in readers like me who do not glamorize or admire the reprehensible antics of trespassing, petty burglars.
The plight of foster kids, what I love most about this novel, doesn’t even show up on the cover or in the synopsis. Mrs. Swanson, a wealthy philanthropist, goes above and beyond the call of duty, protecting the kids from the foster care system that is supposed to save them even though it keeps sending them back to abusive parents who clean up long enough to get their kids back, then go on neglecting or abusing them as usual. The details are heart-rending and sound so authentic, I’d swear John Monk was himself a foster kid. Then again, he knows so much about the “art” of burglary, I’d swear he wrote that stuff too straight from real-life experience. (Authors of historical fiction pull the same trick, and I have to remind myself that living authors were not contemporaries of Daniel Boone.)
Some people have rich imaginations, good research skills and the ability to spin a tall tale that sounds genuine. Bear with me here, but it reminds me of that joke about the “Talking Dog for Sale” sign. A man knocks on the door, asking if it’s true the dog can really talk. To prove it, the owner leads him to the fenced in yard and introduces him to the dog, who proceeds to carry on about all the heroic missions he’s accomplished. “Good Lord,” the stranger exclaims. “Why would you sell a great dog like this?” The man says, “Because the dog’s a damn liar. He’s never set foot outside of this pen.”
Okay. Yes. John L. Monk reminds me of that dog. What a great story teller! Like Harvey Click, who can get me to read horror novels when I detest that genre, Monk gets me to read about a guy who’d creep me out in real life. No matter what the intentions, to have a stranger break into my home and dig through my personal effects is just creepy, and for him to take jewelry or money from me is worse, and to have him hiding in the shower if I got up in the night, unaware of the intruder… ARREST this trespasser! Get him out of my house and off the streets!
There’s almost no limit his lack of respect for the privacy and property of others: Bo finds the personal diary of a celebrity and reads it. “And yeah I felt like a creep for reading her private journal,” he confesses, “But I’ve always been good at tamping down feelings like that, so I picked up another and kept reading.”
All right. I laughed. But I still think you’re creepy, Bo.
Obviously, there’s much more to this story than Bo the cat burglar breaking in to rich people’s homes and stealing jewelry, watches, cash or whatever. There’s a lot of inner conflict, character development, revelations to be revealed, and various heroic, selfless deeds that show the flawed protagonist atoning for his sins. “You should find out why you are so angry,” a hotel employee tells Bo. “Until you do, you’re going to keep getting angry, and you’re going to keep hurting people.”
From the title, Odyssey, I expected more of Homeric epic with the archetypal stages of the hero’s journey, so I was pleasantly surprised to be spared the Sirens and Trojans. There is an allegorical feel to the story, and a hero’s welcome in the end, and no, this is not a plot spoiler.
Oddly, I found myself liking the criminal known as Fruit and his big body guard, Manny, and I did not want to see them come to a bad end. Bo’s phone calls to Fruit are hilarious. Authentic, outrageous, memorable dialogue is one of the hallmarks of Monk’s novels. He’s FUNNY. His prose is fresh, funny and original. Okay, it’s not always original. Sometimes he channels the Marx Brothers.
I’m still really annoyed at John L Monk for writing so well that no matter what awful premise or shady character he comes up with, he can get me to like it.