A rook is a chess piece that may move in either direction, a highly intelligent bird with a complex behavioral pattern that pair-bonds for life, and a verb for “swindle.” Al Nussbaum is all of those, and this novel based on his life and career gives an intriguing look into the mind of a man driven largely by the adrenaline of the heist and by the intricacies of plotting the perfect job, knowledge he later put to use as a writer of crime fiction.
There are other ways to make the money Al needs to support the wife he adores and their new daughter, but none of them carry the kick of bank robbery or of keeping the upper hand with his increasingly dangerous and unstable partner Bobby. When Bobby kills a bank guard, Al’s life unravels. From that point we follow Al’s struggle to get back to his wife and get them out of the country before the FBI catches up and before Bobby, with whom he inevitably quarrels over the split, finds him and kills him.
One of the great strengths of this book is deft characterization. Told in chapters alternating between Al and his wife, Lolly, in close third person and salted with just the right details, we begin to understand what drives Al, and what keeps Lolly, hounded by the FBI and the press, pulled between her genuine love of her husband and her horror at the discovery of his secret life. A fascinating account of a man whom J. Edgar Hoover called the most cunning fugitive in the country.