BOOK REVIEW: Caravan of Thieves by David Rich

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Debut author David Rich is no neophyte in the realm of the thriller: He spent years writing screenplays for film and television, including Renegades and MacGyver. His gift for building suspense, for drawing audience members to the edges of their seats, serves him well in his first novel, Caravan of Thieves, which he will be signing on Camp Pendleton Friday at the new MCX (Marine Corps Exchange), across Vandergrift from the commissary. The public is invited and may enter the base at the Main Gate in Oceanside by showing government-issued identification.

Rich’s plot takes advantage of the U.S. Marine Corps’ involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the persistent mythology surrounding Saddam Hussein’s purported hidden riches, including lots of U.S. dollars. This is a theme that surfaced previously in the 1999 film Three Kings and repeatedly in the wishful blogosphere.

But Rich adds an intriguing element to the myth: Along with the involvement of members of the U.S. military in the theft of the money, Rich presents a scheme to smuggle it into the United States and squirrel it away for a purpose not readily revealed.

It is an enticing conspiracy theory made all the more entertaining by the satisfaction of watching the corrosive consequences of greed on the greedy, whether they lust for power or money.

And in the thick of it all, Rollie Waters, a smart-mouthed Marine lieutenant with an unusual penchant for questioning authority — particularly for a young Marine Corps officer — must decipher the who, what, where and why of the conspiracy in order to keep himself above ground and out of the hoosegow.

Rollie encounters a cast of questionable characters, military and civilian, whom he spends the bulk of the novel trying to outrun and outsmart, while he figures out if they are conspirators or investigators — or likely to switch roles, given adequate enticement.

Rollie’s father, with whom he is more estranged than connected, adds a dimension of con artistry that challenges their tenuous familial bond and adds to the mystery of the money.

The resulting intrigue is captivating, the action scenes are vivid, and Rich’s dialogue is lean and clever as he encourages the reader to eagerly anticipate the harm that comes to bad guys.

One small weakness in Caravan of Thieves seems to stem from Rich’s background in screenwriting, in that it would have been resolved with visuals: There is an occasional bit of dialogue in which the identities of the speakers are confusing. And those who hope for a gutsy female role, will be disappointed, as Rich’s few female characters are two-dimensional, serving as little more than sexual foil or failed mother. Perhaps this, too, is a remnant of his Hollywood days, where the visual presence of a comely female on screen is often considered adequate character development; but in print, these women are wan.

The greatest challenge of Caravan of Thieves might lie in convincing the book’s inevitable military readership of the actual conspirators’ identities, although for many a grunt, the revelation might prove purely satisfying.

While Caravan of Thieves addresses one stash of money, the hordes of treasure that remain unfound at the book’s end suggest the possibility of a series, and Rollie’s battle between the bad father influence and the good son is likely to continue amidst some rapid-fire action.

Book Signing: Friday, September 21, at 4 p.m. Location: Camp Pendleton, MCX, Vandergrift Publisher: Dutton Price: $25.95 Author website: davidrichbooks.com

Crossposted at the North County Times.