Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Robert Pollock's Loophole

We’re now at the twelfth stop on the Alphabet in Crime Fiction community meme’s treacherous journey. Thanks, as ever, to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for a safe trip thus far ;-). While everyone’s checking into the “Hotel L” and unpacking, I’ll share my contribution for this week: Robert Pollock’s Loophole or How to Rob a Bank, published in 1973.

Loophole begins at a warehouse. Professional thief Mike Daniels and his team-mates Harry and Gardner pull off a safecracking and robbery, and get away with a nice haul. When they return to Mike’s home after the robbery to split the money, Mike tells his fellow thieves about an even bigger idea he has; he’s been planning to rob the City Savings Deposit Bank. If the team is successful, the haul is worth over a million pounds. However, the bank is closely guarded, has the latest security features and the consequences for getting caught are grim. Still, Mike’s convinced he’s got a foolproof plan and soon persuades Harry and Gardner that the take is worth the risks.

Part of the reason Mike’s so confident about his plan is that for this job, he’s got a technical expert on the team. Stephen Booker is an architect by education and background. However, he’s been fired from his job. Desperate to make ends meet, regain his wife respect and keep up appearances, he’s taken a job as a night-shift cab driver while trying to find a new job during the day. When Mike Daniels takes Booker’s cab one night, the two begin talking. Over time Daniels realises that Booker could be very useful to him, so he cultivates a friendship with him. After a while and increasing financial desperation, Booker is persuaded to help Daniels and his team pull off the robbery.

With the team assembled, the plans for the robbery go into full swing. The idea is to tunnel under the bank using the city’s sewer system and then break into the main bank vault. Everything is planned to the last second; not only must the team get around the bank’s alarms and other security systems, but there are also several dangers in using the sewers. And then there’s the matter of the weather. If there’s a heavy rain, the sewers the men are using could flood, putting them all at peril. The day of the robbery comes, and all is ready. At first, everything goes beautifully; even the weather co-operates. Then a storm moves in, and it’s a literal life-or-death struggle for a prize that some people would do anything to get.

One of the most important elements in this novel is the set of intensely human characters. Mike Daniels, for example, is married with two children. He and his wife Doreen are an appealing couple, and Daniels is portrayed as a loving father and husband whose family loves him, too. He just happens to be a thief by profession. In fact, here’s what he says about the team of thieves who work on this heist:

“Thieves. You might just as well say salesmen or clerks in an office. It’s their business. It’s what they do. There’s nothing strange about it, not to them anyway…They do what everybody does. They have girlfriends or wives and children and hobbies. They build shelves in the kitchen and clean their cars on Sundays.”

Stephen Booker, too, is happily married with two children. We care about him and when he loses his job and can’t find another, we feel for him and don’t blame him at all for his decision to go in with the robbery team. We feel for his wife Jennifer as the safe world she thought she lived in crumbles around her when her husband loses his job. It’s easy to cheer for these characters even though they’re planning to pull off a major heist and when the storm comes, we want the bank robbers to survive.

The appealing characters help ratchet up the tension in the novel, too. It’s not what you would call a thriller, but there is an underlying sense of tension. Are the robbers’ plans going to work? Will they be caught? Will the storm prove fatal? Although this novel has been put into the “caper” category, and there are some funny moments, there is also a sense of urgency. The robbery team assumes a lot of risks and the men do run into several dangerous situations.

In the context of the bank robbery, the novel also explores some interesting moral questions. Most of us would say that robbery is wrong, and we wouldn’t be a party to a theft. But from Mike Daniels’ perspective, safecracking is the way he makes his living and takes care of his family. We find, for instance, that he’s got a dream of moving Doreen and the children to a nicer home with good schools instead of the cramped quarters they have now. That’s one of the main reasons Daniels wants to pull off this bank heist. At one point, Mike says,

I don’t know what makes a thief, I don’t think anyone knows. But it’s a bloody sight better than being hard up.”

Booker’s motivated in part by money, too, although he’s always been on the “straight and narrow” path before. He’s been driven to desperation by an economy in which he can’t find a new job and feels the same drive we all do to take care of family. Is it wrong to steal from a bank if that means one’s family will be protected? Is it less wrong to steal from a company or institution than it is to rob a person? Jennifer Booker, for instance, says,

“It wasn’t like breaking into somebody’s house…

Does the fact that the robbers plan to steal from a bank and not an individual make the theft less unethical? It’s not an easy question to answer, and Pollock addresses it without preaching.

Loophole also gives the reader an inside look at what goes into planning and pulling off a major bank robbery. The robbers do have their less-than-perfect moments, but they are professionals, and Daniels in particular is an expert at planning and carrying off heists. Months of preparation go into the heist, and we follow the team as they do their “homework,” gather the gear they’ll need, and practice.

There are some interesting dashes of humour in this novel, too. Some of them are subtle; for instance, the name of one of the bank robbers is Fagan. Other bits of humour are a bit more obvious and earthy. For example, one of the thieves is on lookout duty using a powerful pair of binoculars. He gets distracted by an enticing view and almost misses the arrival of a security van at the bank.

Loophole is a very human, sometimes funny “inside look” at what might motivate “the one big heist,” how it would be planned and carried out, and who would pull it off. But what’s your view? Have you read Loophole? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

ps. ...and you've got to love that vintage cover :-).

On Another Note...

I'm very excited to announce that my friend and fellow crime fiction author Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen has just released her second collection of short stories, Blandede Bolsjer! Click the cover to check it out. This collection is in Danish, but even if you don't read Danish, please do visit the site. Every visit enhances Dorte's visibility and gives her some of the publicity she deserves! Tell 'em Margot sent you! Thanks! :-)


  1. I like my novels to be real on many levels. It's not just a bank robbery story, it's also about family and hard times. I love the vintage cover!

    I haven't purchased Dorte's first book but I did that tonight. I've been reading a lot of short stories lately and I'm going to add this collection to my reading list.

  2. Clarissa - You put that so well! This novel really is about families, hard times, and the choices people make. Yes, it is about a bank robbery, too, but really, it's a lot more than that.

    So glad you got Candied Crime! I think you'll be impressed; I know I was.

  3. I haven't read this, Margot, and I appreciate your pointing the book out to me. It's been a while since I've read a non-murder-related mystery and a bank robbery sounds like a nice change of pace. Thanks!

  4. Elizabeth - It is a nice change of pace to read a crime novel that doesn't focus on a murder and its investigation. And what I found interesting about this one is that the fact that there isn't a murder in this novel didn't take away from the sense of suspense or the pace. Now to me, that takes talent :-).

  5. Can I link to this on Friday for forgotten books, Margot?

  6. Patti - Wow! I'm honoured :-). That'd be great! thanks :-)

  7. I've never come across this title Margot, but you can almost see it being made into a film can't you? Thanks for continuing to support the CFA

  8. Kerrie - Oh, I like that idea of making this one into a film. It's got real potential. And no worries - I'm really enjoying the meme :-).

  9. Not a book I've come across, but what an interesting selection.Is it in print I wonder? Human stories and moral questions appeal to me, and it is good to remember that a good crime novel doesn't have to have a murder.

  10. Jane - It is an interesting book, and yes, it's in print at Amazon in a newer edition. And I agree - it is important to remember that it's possible to tell a good crime story without having a murder in it.

  11. Margot-This week is coffee table books, so I stole the link for next week (8th). Thanks again.

  12. Patti - No, it's I who thank you :-). Appreciate it muchly!!

  13. I had not heard of Loophole until I read your review. Is it set in an identified city?

  14. Bill - It really is an interesting story and (I think) a good read. It's set in London.

  15. Loophole is a book I haven't read but will add it to my wish list now. It sounds intriguing even without a murder.

    Congratulations to Dorte on the release of her second book. Wishing her much success.

    Thoughts in Progress

  16. Mason - Loophole really does keep the reader engaged, even though there isn't a murder in it. I hope you'll enjoy it.

    And I am so very excited about Dorte's new release. I'm a "Dorte groupie" ;-)

  17. Thank you, Mason!

    Margot: Ah, a groupie! Now I know I am somebody ;)

  18. Dorte - You're hitting the "big time!" :-)

  19. Did you heard what Rob Matts said about that?

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