Friday, August 11, 2023

5 Against the House

Jack Finney's (1911-1995) best known novels are The Body Snatchers (1955), which was adapted into the 1956 popular science-fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Time and Again (1970), and Assault on a Queen (1959), which was adapted into a film of the same name in 1966. My only experience with the author was his prison-break novel House of Numbers, which I really enjoyed. In the mood for heist-fiction, I chose to read his first published novel, 5 Against the House. It was published in 1954 as a hardcover by Doubleday & Company and made into a 1955 film of the same name by Columbia Pictures. It was also a serialized story featured in Good Housekeeping.

Al is a bright young kid attending college and planning for his future. His pack of friends includes fellow students Guy, Jerry, Brick, and Tina. After seeing a Brink's Security truck roll by, the guys fantasize about robbing the truck and making off with a fortune in stolen money. Unfortunately, they put the plan into a loose sketch and decide to follow the truck as it makes various stops. Needless to say, the police watch for that sort of thing and immediately pull the kids over with a warning to stop the nonsense. Which was really all it was.

But, the kids aren't smart enough to leave well enough alone. Instead, they piece together a plan to rob a Reno casino called Harold's Club. The kids have worked in and around the place holding summer jobs serving the tourists. The first half of the book's narrative consists of the plan, holdup, escape route, and so forth. The second half is the heist itself and the aftermath.

Heist-fiction is a lot of fun and Jack Finney certainly understood the ins and outs of working within this sub-genre of crime-fiction. While not as violent as a Parker or Earl Drake novel, Finney makes up for it with an intense human study of emotion – guilt, integrity, responsibility, loyalty – while defining the characters of Al, Tina, and Brick. There is a deep ravine carved in the friendship between Al and Brick, and Finney does an excellent job excavating that for the reader. Additionally, Tina's fascination with money and swanky lifestyle propels Al's participation in the narrative. It's the decisions and the aftermath that made House of Numbers so good, and I was happy to learn Finney used (learned?) those elements here.  

5 Against the House is just a great heist novel featuring likable characters and a fresh take on “take the money and run”. If you haven't tried Jack Finney yet, either this novel or House of Numbers is a great place to start.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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