Written by Steven Savile — Parallel Lines is a high concept thriller about a bank robbery. The idea is nice and neat: what if the people in a bank that’s being robbed decide to help the robbers? Savile has to do some nimble plotting to make the scenario believable, but he just about pulls it off.
Adam Shaw is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a wasting illness also called motor neurone disease. Over the next few months it will affect his speech and movement, but crucially it means that soon there will be nobody to look after his disabled son, Jake. With nothing left to lose, Shaw is a desperate man prepared to exchange what little remains of his own life in order to secure Jake’s future.
Shaw has done some research and identified a mid-sized bank in Chicago to rob. His search led him to the dark web, and a hi-tech scam designed to syphon off small amounts from multiple large accounts so that hopefully no-one will notice. Shaw still has to get the programme onto the bank’s mainframe, and that means a hold-up at gun point.
Clearly, Shaw’s hard luck story isn’t going to be sufficient on its own to persuade the other people in the bank that morning to risk their own liberty to help him. Savile has to construct an enemy that the others can rally against and his antagonist is casino operator, mob enforcer and pimp, Samuel Archer. Archer is in the bank that morning because he has blackmailed the bank manager, Richard Rhodes, into opening a dummy account that he can illegally deposit money into.
Shaw’s first ally is Alice, a croupier Archer has strong-armed into prostitution. They are joined by Theo Monk, the bank’s security guard who lost his job with the Chicago PD after Archer framed him because he refused a bribe.
Other staff are also persuaded to help for their own personal reasons. Bank teller Sasha is at a crossroads in her life and finds herself sympathetic to Shaw’s plight.
The action really starts after Shaw shoots Archer accidently. Apart from a short introductory sequence establishing the characters and their motivations, the vast majority of the story takes place within the claustrophobic confines of the bank. Not everybody sympathises with Shaw, and conflict arises when some of the staff oppose his plan. Beth’s Christian beliefs prevent her from helping to commit a crime. Vicky, one of the most interesting and sadly underused characters, is a determined and resourceful former soldier with no time for Shaw’s troubles.
Another obstacle for Shaw to overcome is the SWAT team assembled outside and their hostage negotiator, Marcus. Savile throws an added complication into the mix when Archer’s boss sends his fixer, known only as The Dane, to try to recover his money.
The premise of the book is a good one, and Savile makes the most of it. The co-conspirators plan to escape with the money and dispose of Archer’s corpse without being caught has to be developed on the fly, and part of the fun is seeing the inventive way this happens. Shaw makes for a sympathetic protagonist and his motivation is clear and believable.
Indeed, Parallel Lines would make a great heist movie. In fact, it might work better as a film than a book. There is never really the space in the story to flesh out the characters, and while this wouldn’t be a problem in a film, it leaves the novel feeling a little slight. The focus of the story slides a bit too too. As the heist develops, Shaw goes from being the centre of the story to a more peripheral character as others – notably Alice, The Dane, and Theo – become more central.
Parallel Lines is a tense, undemanding and enjoyable slice of escapist crime fiction that would make good holiday reading.
There are lots more books about heists on Crime Fiction Lover. Click here to explore. Parallel Lines is out 14 March.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars