Friday, July 17, 2009


Warren Murphy is a master of the quick, witty, and action-filled novel. He co-created the bestselling The Destroyer series, and in the 1980s and 90s wrote several bigger novels including his 1992 novel, Honor Among Thieves.

Lieutenant Rostov is a Moscow narcotics cop; the Communist government has barely settled into dust when organized crime begins to make a play for the drug market. The problem, no one believes there is a mafia working the system—no one except Rostov and his team.

Rostov requests help from the American government. He needs someone with American mafia experience to consult and, more importantly, prove that organized crime is expanding into the former Soviet Union. What he gets is a former mafia wise guy turned state’s witness named Kamen who is more than a little antsy to get back in the game.

Honor Among Thieves is a 1990s thriller from beginning to end. It involves three of my favorite subjects—in novel form of course—the Soviet Union, drugs (specifically cocaine) and the mafia. The prose is fluid and easy, there is a serious amount of dialogue, and the action is quick and believable.
The characters are the expected—from Mr. Murphy at any rate—in that they are well-rounded, in the manner of a thriller, with an abundance of wit, humor and, at times, over-the-top interpersonal relationships. There are several interconnecting story lines that tie together rather nicely and more than enough intrigue to keep the pages interesting.

The most unique aspect of the novel—at least looking back with 20-20 vision—is that the Russian mafia was still in shadow and needed to be fully revealed and proven. A naive thought (the culture, rather than the author) with the impressive growth that the Russian crime syndicates have made since the fall of Soviet communism, both domestically and internationally.

Honor Among Thieves is an entertaining blast from the past. It is a fun read that reminded me of my comfortable and warm youth. It has lost a few steps since it was published, but it is very much worth keeping an eye open for in your favorite used bookshop or thrift store. But, heck, all of Murphy's novels are worth a look.


Ed Gorman said...

Great review, Ben. Yes Murphy is always fun to read. My favorites are probably his Trace books. Good of you to remind us of what a force he was in the eighties and nineties. He had a great run at the top--huge sales and several Edgars.

Ben Boulden said...

I really enjoy Murphy's novels. He never does the expected, as far the genre goes. His thrillers are different than the typical in the 1980s and 90s--many were seemingly marketed in the vein of a Tom Clancy thriller, but they are anything but...the characters are sharper, the prose is smoother, and the plotlines are quicker and tend to the unexpected. And there is always humor.

I also enjoy his TRACE novels. I first discovered them in Randisi's First Cases series. I think it was the fourth installment, and I immediately went on a hunt for the novels. I need to dig a few out of boxes and read 'em.