In Pannebecker’s (Godsfood, 2015) urban drama, the latest score for a trio of burglars is substantial, but a dangerous man who wants his money back may put them all in jeopardy.
Justin Sunder, a thief by trade, prides himself on being able to bypass any alarm system. He shares a St. Louis apartment with fellow cat burglar Phoenix. Justin loves Phoenix, but she doesn’t reciprocate, a fact made all the more glaring once love interest Dylan Panicosky enters the picture. The three pull B&Es together, yet jealousy ultimately threatens their union: Justin knows Dylan and Phoenix are having sex, while Dylan thinks there’s something more to the relationship between the other two. When they target coke dealer David’s place, they walk away with a cool $40,000. But David’s relentless search for the thieves who stole from him could lead the notoriously unhinged dealer right to any one of them. Pannebecker’s novel focuses more on the criminals than the crimes, providing readers with affable lawbreakers. The narrative distinguishes the thieves with individual motives for stealing: Justin, with his “twisted Robin Hood logic,” believes the rich are immoral; Phoenix finds the crimes sexually stimulating; and Dylan just seems to be following Phoenix. Their back stories are engrossing, too, especially Phoenix’s mom trying to push her into prostitution at 14 and Justin’s conspicuous burn scar, which the narrative doesn’t elucidate until near the end. The inevitable envy between the two men adds melodrama to the pages, though it also leads to significant turning points, including Justin’s resolve to quit stealing and leave St. Louis and a serious, albeit somewhat predictable, decision that Dylan makes late in the novel. David is an unmistakable menace for the protagonists; details of a horrendous act involving his mother are particularly unsettling. Pannebecker’s story, which takes place in the 1980s, also addresses social issues of the time. Justin’s friend Bernard, for example, is homosexual and subjected to intolerance and homophobic slurs. It’s hard to miss a sense of gloom throughout, but Pannebecker doesn’t let it saturate the novel. The protagonists always cling to hope, earning readers’ sympathy along the way.
Depressing at times but an emotionally charged story that animates its characters.