Thieves Like Us ~ A Capsule Book Review

Thieves Like Us ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Keechie Mobley and Bowie Bowers are a couple of sweet, decent kids who only want to live a quiet life in a place where they will be left alone. The only problem is Bowie is a prison escapee—he was serving a life sentence for murder when he escaped—and a bank robber. Keechie goes along with him and does what she believes is best for him, so she is a guilty accomplice, even though she doesn’t participate in any of the robberies. They are the central characters in Edward Anderson’s 1937 noir crime novel, Thieves Like Us.

Bowie has two bank-robbery pals, T-Dub and Chicamaw. They are older men. The three of them work together well as a team, even though Chicamaw is a terrible drunk and T-Dub acquires a young wife who isn’t very well-suited to a life of crime. Their problems, of course, will eventually bring them down, but, in the meantime, they pull several  successful bank jobs that garner them significant sums of money and lots of media attention. The three of them are wanted across several states. This is not going to end well for them.

The last third of Thieves Like Us focuses primarily on Bowie and Keechie, rather than on the bank jobs. We see the human side of these criminals on the run, instead of just the hyped-up version that the newspapers perpetuate. They want the public to believe that Bowie is a mad-dog killer/thief with no conscience and no remorse. Nobody is safe as long as he roams free. We know from the way he behaves and the things he says that he isn’t really like this. He’s  going to become a father and he believes his bank-robbery days are behind him and he will live the rest of his days as other people live. I wouldn’t count on it.  

For serious afficionados of Depression-era crime fiction, Thieves Like Us is a real find. While it is a noir story dealing with crime and criminals, it is fine piece of classic American literature that fires on all cylinders. If I was a high school English teacher, I would make it required reading.

There have been a couple of different movie versions of Thieves Like Us. A 1948 version was titled They Live by Night, which is an all-right title but not as good as Thieves Like Us. A more faithful version (except for the ending) was the 1974 Thieves Like Us with Keith Carradine and Shelly Duvall perfect as boyfriend and girlfriend Bowie and Keechie. They’re not as pretty as Bonnie and Clyde, but we like them better and we come closer to believing them.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

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