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Sunday 23 July 2017

‘The White Van’ by Patrick Hoffman

Published by Grove Press UK,
3 March 2016. 
ISBN 978 1 61185 552-4

At first sight, the narrative of The White Van appears to be populated by the most undesirable group of characters anyone might wish to imagine.  To start with there is Emily, a drifting, drunken, petty thief whose mother – a heroine addict - died when she was six.  Emily’s boyfriend knocks her about, so it is not too surprising when she allows herself to be gathered up by a good-looking Russian, Benya Stavitsky, who invites her back to his hotel to take drugs with him.

Benya has troubles of his own.  One of his black-market deals went seriously wrong when Chinese gangsters muscled in on the act and left him disastrously out of pocket. Benya’s impecunious position then left him vulnerable to the demands of another Russian gangster, a loan shark called Sophia, who has purchased his debts.

Sophia is a most delightful lady. She thinks nothing of forcing Benya to keep guard over Emily whilst they feed her a cocktail of drugs that will render her amenable to their wishes. All Sophia wants Emily to do is to rob a bank!   Emily does as Sophia instructs her to - until she finds herself holding a bag loaded with dollars. 

At this point the script changes and an alcoholic, compulsive gambler, Leo Elias, joins the plot.  Elias is a useless cop who is about to have his house repossessed.  He decides he could use the money from the bank robbery and sets out to find it.

As the rest of this action-packed narrative races through various locations in San Francisco, we gradually begin to understand why at least some of its well-portrayed characters behave as they do, and to feel some grudging sympathy for them. Those who enjoy dark humour will love this book whose final pages ensure that the story never really ends.
Reviewer: Angela Crowther

Patrick Hoffman is a writer and private investigator based in Brooklyn, NY. His first book, The White Van, was a finalist for the Crime Writers' Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and was named a Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. His highly anticipated follow-up, Every Man A Menace, came out in 2016, and was again named one of the ten bests of the year by the Wall Street Journal.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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