BOOKS: Crime novels focusing on criminals can be just as captivating as any murder mystery

"Northern Heist" by Richard O'Rawe (Melville House, 262 pages, $17.99)

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"Northern Heist" by Richard O'Rawe (Melville House, 262 pages, $17.99)

I often express my deep affection for, and even I daresay, addiction to crime novels, mysteries, thrillers, and the like. Don’t think for a second all crime novels are about good people chasing bad people. Some of my favorites feature protagonists who are bad guys; burglars, robbers, thieves, and con artists.

The late Donald Westlake was one the best at writing stories that featured bad guys. His John Dortmunder series featured a professional criminal and a lot of humor. Then there was his much darker Parker series written under the pen name of Richard Stark. If you enjoy that kind of thing.

I savor that subgenre of crime novels which portrays clever criminals who are capable of pulling off sensational heists while getting away with it. I knew the second I saw the title of a book called “Northern Heist” that I wanted to read it. It was written by an author from Northern Ireland named Richard O’Rawe.

O’Rawe epitomizes an expression that I hear frequently from authors; that you should always try to write what you know. O’Rawe was an operative for the Irish Republican Army and he served time in prison for bank robbery. “Northern Heist” is the tale of a bank robbery and the IRA is a large part of this story.

This novel was inspired by an actual crime, a bank robbery that took place in Ireland. Many millions of English pounds were taken and to this day nobody has ever been convicted of perpetrating that caper. They have gotten away with it so far. In this series our fictional criminal mastermind is a guy named Ructions O’Hare.

As the story opens Ructions is plotting out how he’ll pull off a bank heist. He’s been having a clandestine love affair with Eleanor, a woman who is married to a banker. Ructions had been pumping her for information about the bank’s procedures. There’s been an unexpected complication however, he’s fallen in love with her. That wasn’t part of the plan.

Law enforcement authorities suspect the IRA. They didn’t rob the bank, but they know who did and now they want a big chunk of the loot as their “tax.” Then there’s Eleanor, our damsel in distress. The damsel who Ructions wasn’t expecting to care about so deeply.

There are stunning double crosses. Everybody wants a piece of the action. The police look for Ructions. He is a suspect. He turns himself in. They put him on trial but the crime was so perfect they could not prove he did it.

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"Goering's Gold" by Richard O'Rawe (Melville House, 400 pages, $17.99)

Credit: Contributed

"Goering's Gold" by Richard O'Rawe (Melville House, 400 pages, $17.99)

Credit: Contributed

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"Goering's Gold" by Richard O'Rawe (Melville House, 400 pages, $17.99)

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Next month Ructions O’Hare returns in another brilliant crime novel. In “Goering’s Gold” Ructions hears about billions of dollars worth of gold bullion that the Nazis hid away somewhere in Ireland near the end of WWII. As he tries to figure out where this treasure is and how to obtain it he realizes he has competition; the IRA wants it too. Then there’s the cell of German neo-Nazis who are also searching for the gold while getting hoodwinked repeatedly by Ructions.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.