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!