I was unsure when I picked up Culprits: The Heist Was Just the Beginning with nine different writers trying to write one novel, it scared me, it seemed an invitation to chaos. Collaborative fiction with multiples authors is nothing new especially in the mystery genre as there are The Floating Admiral (1931), Naked Came the Manatee (1996), Natural Suspect (2001), and No Rest for the Dead (2010). Heck, the folks over at Down & Out Books and The Thrill Begins are releasing a collaborative novel next week called The Night of the Flood edited by E.A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen. And then there’s my natural fear of anthologies: I find them to be usually weak, jarring when finishing one story and more to the next, and, sadly, in many anthologies we aren’t seeing a writer’s best work.
When I opened Culprits my concerns disappeared. I had forgotten about the cinematic rush of nostalgia that I get from reading a heist novel, my childhood years spent watching movies like Hot Rock, Thief, Goldfinger, the Pink Panther films, and the Mission Impossible tv show. I would even include The Sting and Day of the Jackal but it might provoke some arguments. As the 70s fell into the background and I moved on to other interests, the heist film was still there, attractive and enjoyable.
Brewer and Phillips have put together a book with nine distinct voices that moves along at the required rapid pace and, more importantly, well-written. I don’t think I can stress this enough, the writers participating in this heist gone wrong book (Brett Battles, Gar Anthony Haywood, Zoë Sharp, Manuel Ramos, Jessica Kaye, Joe Clifford and David Corbett) know their craft. The writers are like a heist crew, each capable at what they do and executing flawlessly at it. I liked how Sharp bent time in “The Wife”, how Manuel Ramos took on the ghost of Jim Thompson in “Snake Farm”, and the darkness of Joe Clifford’s “Eel Estevez”.
Brewer and Phillips’ Culprits is quite a lot of fun: the heist goes bad, the crew scatters, we root for them and hope they get out if it safely and when they don’t, you shrug your shoulders, “Yup, that’s what happens when a heist goes bad.” If you are looking for a smart, entertaining book then Brewer and Phillips’ Culprits is it. Culprits is not the next great crime novel and I don’t think that was its intention, but it’s far better than that TV show you are binging or that comic book movie you want to go see.