The Portsmouth Book Club July - Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

Our July pick for the Portsmouth Book Club is:  Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts by Julian Rubinstein.

Here is a brief synopsis from GoodReads:

Elmore Leonard meets Franz Kafka in the wild, improbably true story of the legendary outlaw of Budapest. Attila Ambrus was a gentleman thief, a sort of Cary Grant--if only Grant came from Transylvania and was a terrible professional hockey goalkeeper. During the 1990s, while playing for the biggest hockey team in Budapest, Ambrus took up bank robbery to make ends meet. Arrayed against him was perhaps the most incompetent team of crime investigators the Eastern Bloc had ever seen: a robbery chief who had learned how to be a detective by watching dubbed Columbo episodes; a forensics man who wore top hat and tails on the job; and a driver so inept he was known only by a Hungarian word that translates to Mound of Ass-Head. BALLAD OF THE WHISKEY ROBBER is the completely bizarre and hysterical story of the crime spree that made a nobody into a somebody, and told a forlorn nation that sometimes the brightest stars come from the blackest holes. Like The Professor and the Madman and The Orchid Thief, Julian Rubinstein's bizarre crime story is so odd and so compelling that it is completely irresistible.

And a short review from Publisher's Weekly:

This story of a bank robber who captured a nation's sympathy in post-Communist Hungary is a rollicking tale told with glee and flair. Attila Ambrus sneaked over the border from Romania into Hungary in the waning days of Communist rule. After talking his way onto a Hungarian hockey team, he turned to robbery to make some cash in the Wild West atmosphere of the early 1990s in Eastern Europe. As journalist Rubinstein shows, Ambrus was quite good at it. Taking advantage of poor police work, he took in millions in Hungarian currency and became a headline-grabber. He managed to stay at large for several years while continuing in his role as a back-up goalie on the ice. Rubinstein has a knack for telling a good story, and he captures well both Ambrus's appeal and the atmosphere of the first few years of capitalism in Hungary. Along the way, he introduces readers to memorable characters in addition to the appealing, alcoholic protagonist: the women Ambrus attracts and a Budapest detective driven out of office by the crime spree. While Rubinstein (whose work has been collected in Best American Crime Writing) overwrites at times, he has a rootin'-tootin' style that's a perfect fit for this Jesse James–like tale, which has the chance to be a sleeper that transcends nonfiction categories.

This book was published in 2005, and I found a number of hardcover editions on sale at Amazon for LESS THAN A DOLLAR:  Cheap Hardcovers of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber Scroll down until you see them.  Lots for only a penny!

The other books up for tonight's vote were:

Heft by Liz Moore

Live by Night by Dennis Lehane

The Golem and Jinni by Helen Wecker

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill

Those of you who didn't make it this evening for our discussion on The Light Between Oceans missed out on the appearance of local author Donald L. Brown who attended and distributed FREE autographed copies of his new novel: The Morphine Dream which is soon to be a major motion picture!

Not only did you miss a great author and his wonderful new memoir - you also missed cake and cookies (provided by Jaclyn and Craig).

THANK YOU for making the five year anniversary of the Portsmouth Book Club so wonderful!  Our regulars surprised me with a first edition signed copy of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger which was the very first book we read for the Book Club.  A special heartfelt thanks to Bob (my first book club member and regular - and the most probable lead conspirator of this wonderful surprise), Craig, Matt, Ben, Denise, Jaclyn, Ann, Samantha, Jill, Irene, Paul and everyone else who was in on this incredibly thoughtful tribute, and thanks to all who attended.  I'm still over the moon at your thoughtfulness.  I love you guys!

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  • Laura B.

    Great, I have time to get the book and start reading! Thanks :-)

    1 · June 20, 2013

    • Donald B.

      Warm Regards

      January 2, 2014

    • Donald B.

      Don Brown

      January 2, 2014

  • Darien L.

    Enjoyed participants' insightful comments during the discussion.

    1 · July 10, 2013

    • Rebecca

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      July 10, 2013

  • Sean D.

    Sorry I couldn't stay for the after discussion. I have to be up very early in the AM, and it was a school night ;-). I really enjoyed the discussion and laughs last night. Thanks for a great group.

    July 10, 2013

    • Rebecca

      As my only night out each month, I welcome the pain the next morning.

      July 10, 2013

  • Jeannie

    So sorry my sister and I missed this meeting. Something came up at the last minute. I really enjoyed this book, btw. I'd been to Budapest and it gave me more insight into its rough history.
    Very disappointed I wasn't there to hear all the comments - bet I would have learned even more!

    July 10, 2013

    • Rebecca

      No problem! Hope you can make it another time!

      July 10, 2013

  • Darien L.

    Excellent. Very knowledgeable people shared their views and comments.

    July 9, 2013

    • Rebecca

      We're glad you liked it!

      July 10, 2013

  • Darien L.

    I'm new to this group. Plan to attend this evening. Hope it's OK

    July 9, 2013

  • Sean D.

    I am going to try and get dinner before the meetup, anyone want to join me at maybe The Common Man? or I am open to suggestions.

    July 9, 2013

    • Rebecca

      I was trying to get away early to meet up with Craig beforehand, but my day is too busy with clients today!

      1 · July 9, 2013

  • Barbara M.

    SORRY TO MISS AGAIN. Managed to fall and the body's not cooperating with what the mind wants.I truly do want to be a part of this book club. Await nect

    July 9, 2013

    • Rebecca

      I hope you feel better!

      July 9, 2013

  • Anna

    Book just came this afternoon. I will look for posting of next book tomorrow so I can order NOW!

    July 8, 2013

  • Debbie H.

    I am new to the area and have always enjoyed being a part of a book club. I look forward to meeting you all!

    2 · June 19, 2013

    • Rebecca

      Looking forward to seeing you there!

      June 21, 2013

  • Sean D.

    The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is also available on audible.com for download if you want to listen to it instead.

    2 · June 12, 2013

    • Rebecca

      My only audiobook experience: I did have all of Poe's short stories on a 4-disc collection, narrated by Vincent Price for full awesomeness. I used to blast it at a ridiculous volume in the car until someone finally hid them on me.

      1 · June 12, 2013

    • Sean D.

      I am going to date myself here. I had a Fisher price record player as a young child, I think I had those same stories on vinyl. One was the Telltale Heart? One was the one with the bug on the window? One was about the dead hunters coming back? I forget all the names. One of my favorite self indulgences these days is symphony space's Selected Shorts program in podcasts. It is great short fiction read by actors at Symphony Space in NYC. Great way to get lost for an hour.

      1 · June 13, 2013

  • Natalie W.

    Looking forward to the next meeting. Although I have to say I'm a slow reader so I may have to opt for the unabriged audio on this one. We will see?

    1 · June 13, 2013

    • Rebecca

      Go for it. I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts!

      June 13, 2013

    • Sean D.

      The listen is very interesting so far. It is read by a bunch of different people.

      June 13, 2013

  • Barbara I.

    So sorry I missed this one - Read the book and liked it but was hijacked before I got out of the house to babysit for grandkids so their parents could go out for their Wedding Anniversary dinner and couldn't say no - maybe next month!!!!

    1 · June 12, 2013

    • Rebecca

      It happens, no worries!

      June 12, 2013

  • Barbara M.

    Looks like I missed a wonderful book club meet-up last night ....

    June 12, 2013

    • Rebecca

      But every meeting is wonderful, so we would love to have you make the next one!

      June 12, 2013

  • Donald B.

    thank you for making my first book club event very comfortable - I was so impressed by the stimulating and enthusastic discussion

    1 · June 12, 2013

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