A Few Days Away is a hard-edged contemporary noir novel with a relentless anti-hero – a thief with no name. He is hell-bent on revenge and recovering the money that went missing after a bungled robbery that left his partner dead. It’s the second in the Nameless Thief series and continues on from his first outing, Three Hours Past Midnight.
The salient details of the burglary of a corrupt politician are skilfully woven into this story and everything you want from a cold, nihilistic noir is here. A Few Days Away echoes Point Blank, Lee Marvin cool and Elmore Leonard energy. So it’s a taut, pacy tale referencing Richard Stark’s Parker novels, but with even more icy cynicism. Knighton’s thief and his unswerving, self-declared righteousness will delight pulp fans.
It’s St Valentine’s Day in rural Pennsylvania. This isn’t exactly a massacre but there’s plenty of blood on the ground. The thief comes round in the upturned car and details of the crash slowly come back to him. He’s still strapped into the car that flipped into the river during the getaway. His shoulder is damaged, water rushes over the roof. There’s no sign of his partner, Redfern, the money’s gone and the pistol too. Dusk is falling, there might just be time to get away. In the distance he hears shots but he keeps moving.
The thief makes it out and recuperates. If he’s smart that should be the end of it – chalk it up to experience and move on, and for a while that’s the way he sees it. Then four months later, back in Pittsburgh, the thief breaks into the house of a corrupt politician, Dougherty. This is a well-planned job, he’s pieced together that there should be rich pickings here. Yet he only comes up with a little over $4,000.
Susan, his partner, says it’s just bad luck and there’s always the next job, but she’s clearly disappointed. It’s been two consecutive strike outs so the same thought is playing on the thief. But then he reads about a home invasion, upstate, a double murder that connects back to the bank heist he pulled with Red which went so disastrously wrong. He decides to find out what exactly happened back then. The money was never handed in so somebody must have it. The thief is certain it’s his.
With fake papers, a couple of tall stories and a lot of bluff the thief returns to the scene of the robbery. He talks to the police and the witnesses and begins piecing together events. The police are suspicious of the interloper but our man is cool, he slowly makes the connections, only he’s not alone in searching for the cash. The way the thief sees it he’s going to get every penny of the $70,000 back. To do that he has to avoid getting caught up in the mire of corrupt local cops, street gangs, white supremacists and dirty politicians. The thief treads softly until that becomes impossible:
“I dragged him by the ankles down the rest of the stairs to the basement, his arms spreading Christ-like, head bouncing on every step. He’d be out for a while. At the bottom of the staircase, I opened the door a crack and checked. The hallway was clear. There was an unlocked door that opened to a mechanical room. I pulled him across the hall and left him inside.”
A Few Days Away has a sharp plot. Familiar tropes are pleasingly flipped and the homage to the classic hardboiled heist novel is spot on. There’s a colourful cast of characters, low key but threatening, but our man is a rock. The dialogue is menacing and loaded with undercurrents, verbal confrontations are pistol-less duels. There’s a couple of neat twists and a mesmeric anti-hero at the heart – merciless, driven, resourceful.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars