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Old Dog, New Tricks
Douglas Richardson
Richardson’s surprising crime novel kicks off with a tragic plane crash, reports of murder, and rumblings from the local sheriff about an up-to-no-good biker gang. But Old Dogs, New Tricks—set in “in mid-state Wisconsin, land of the Germans and the Poles”—lives up to its title by continually upending expectations, as protagonist Victor Harding, a retired architect who faces losing his house after his nest egg goes kaput, finds himself embarking on a surprising new career path: fencing stolen goods, often burgled from the lavish homes of the “dollar-driven and possession-centric” transplants who are changing the local character of small-town Green Lake. More surprising still, Victor discovers a lost fortune in the Prohibition-era tunnels under his own home, which once was owned by a gangster. Soon he realizes that liquidating this windfall will demand enlisting the services of his brother (and established fencing partner) Colin, his lawyer sister Christine, and her jewelry-making artist wife, Delia.

Despite the fantastical luck of that discovery, Richardson’s novel is refreshingly down-to-Earth, dramatizing in crisp, controlled language the nuts and bolts of fencing, money-laundering, and other crimes, while also developing engaging relationships between the core cast. A family reunion in the novel's middle diminishes momentum, setting up not just this book but a series, but the characters are interesting enough to keep the pages turning. The suspense comes from the excitement of a criminal enterprise with uneasy alliances—and from the complicating factor of Victor’s chatting-over-drinks friendship with the local sheriff. (Readers hungry for shootouts should look elsewhere.) Especially interesting are the logistics and legalities of moving the sundry hot items, from jewelry to Persian rugs to a McLaren 720S once owned by Jay Leno.

Richardson savvily delineates the changing culture of his milieu, with attention to the experiences of non-white characters in a mostly white region where residents grumble about “Replacement Theory.” That thoughtful sympathy does not extend to the “lunkheaded” white yardman Odell, however, who is described in puzzlingly dehumanizing language, a sour note in an otherwise empathetic novel whose criminal heroes are generally likable, the sort to start a non-profit artists collective as part of their scheming.

Takeaway: Smart crime story of the realities of fencing and liquidating a treasure.

Comparable Titles: Thomas Morgan’s Marinated Money, Brian Selfon’s The Nightworkers.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A