John Trinian (1933-2008) is the pseudonym of Zekial Marko who was born as Marvin Leroy Schmoker. And if you think that’s confusing, one day I’ll tell you the story of Salvatore Lombino. As an adult in San Francisco, Marko ran with the Beat Generation writers, including Jack Kerouac, but his own writing gravitated towards the type of genre fiction that Paperback Warrior readers will find quite familiar. This includes his 1961 novel, “Scratch a Thief,” which was later adapted into the 1965 film “Once a Thief” featuring Ann Margaret and Jack Palance.
Eddie Pesek is a Hungarian-American in San Francisco trying to make ends meet working low-level jobs to support his wife and daughter at home. The problem is that Eddie has a past. Years ago, he was part of a heist crew along with his brother and a few other hardcases when a job went sideways, and Eddie shot a cop in the belly. This resulted in Eddie’s arrest and incarceration for a few years before he was granted parole. In any case, Eddie is now living a crime-free life as a legit citizen.
Eddie might be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with Eddie. His brother resurfaces in his life wanting him to come aboard for one big score. Meanwhile, Eddie is being harassed by the cop he shot years ago which makes it hard to hold a steady job. Will Eddie succumb to the familial and financial pressures and rejoin his brother’s heist crew? Can he shake the obsessed cop always looking over his shoulder?
“Scratch a Thief” is a better-than-average heist novel. It’s well-written and Eddie’s dilemmas seem real and consequential. However, if you’ve read more than a couple novels in the same genre (“The retired thief back for one last score!”), there won’t be many surprises in this one. I enjoyed it plenty as I was reading, but I can’t imagine recalling much about it in the future. Richard Stark, Dan Marlowe, and Lionel White all did basically the same thing with more style, but if you’ve burned through those authors, this Trinian paperback would be the next tier.
“Scratch a Thief” has been reprinted by Stark House as a double along with Trinian’s “House of Evil” about a Hollywood sex cult, which looks like a pretty good read as well, if you’re into Hollywood, sex, and cults. The new edition also features a lengthy introduction by Ki Longfellow who knew the author well. Recommended.
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