I originally reviewed The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski on October 2nd, 2006.
An Irishman, Murphy, said “What can go wrong will” and then he was refuted by another Irishman, O’Toole, who said “Murphy was an optimist” and Lennon, an Irishman, goes to great lengths to show that they were both edjits and maintains a strong campaign throughout the entirety of The Wheelman to have a rule named after him.
Swierczynski takes a well worn trope, the botched bank job, and infuses it with new energy. Of course there is only one way for a bank job to go bad and that’s to have a double cross, but why just one have when you can have multiple. The ending and the eventual loyalties of the characters is always up in the air and is gleefully unpredictable. In retrospect one has to wonder how he got away with piling so much action and story onto such a premise. But it quickly becomes apparent that he is an audacious stylist with a Masters touch when it comes to writing action packed sequences and make no mistake about it The Wheelman is nothing but action sequences. He may borrow from the old timers for the start of the story but by page 2 he has quickly made the story his own. One imagines Swierczynski holding a knife to the throats of old pulp story clichés and telling them in a menacing voice that if they don’t do what he wants then he’ll kill their family. I’ve seen the guys’ picture, he’s capable of it.
Without going into specifics I really liked the way that the book ended. I don’t mean content but the style that was used. With a nod to his day job as editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper the books coda is done in a series of newspapers articles that are reproduced and wrap up the loose ends. It was a nice touch and had the effect of grounding the story in reality and fleshing out the Philadelphia that these characters inhabit and that Swierczynski makes his playground like some crazed, maniacal gun toting god lording over his domain.
Swierczynski is the author of the definitive non fiction book on bank robberies, This Here’s a Stick Up, consequently The Wheelman has a level of authenticity about the art of robbing banks that isn’t present in other books, there are also nuggets of historical information about bank robberies that is always interesting.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again Swierczynski is among the vanguard of modern crime novelists, carving his own brand of over the top action stories. His work is incomparable in its vision of a crime and violence riddled Philadelphia that never becomes cartoonish but always remains frightening in both the story and in his irreverent destruction of all things conventional and comfortable in crime fiction.