First book in a humorous mystery series.

Publication year: 1970
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1991
Format: print
Finnish translator: Erkki Hakala
Page count: 420
Finnish Publisher: WSOY

John Archibald Dortmunder has just been released from prison. He’s looking forward to that and also of the three hundred dollars he sold his cell for. Unfortunately, the warden decides to escort him to the gates, so Dortmunder doesn’t get his money. This isn’t promising. In fact, that’s a good description of how his life continues: despite good planning and skills, bad luck interferes constantly.

Dortmunder is a small-time criminal. He does some swindling gigs, such as selling subscriptions to book series which don’t exist. But he really shines in his job as crime planner: he looks over the place that needs to be broken into and assigns the right men for various jobs.

This time his friend Kelp has a job waiting: the Bambolo diamond which is being shown in the Coliseum Hall. The diamond is worth half a million dollars but it would be difficult to sell. Luckily they don’t have to sell it. Instead, they have a man who wants them to steal it for him and is willing to pay for it. Dortmunder is skeptical but after meeting Major Iko, he agrees to get a group to together and steal the rock.

Kelp and Dortmunder contact three other men who are the best in their own business. Stan Murch is their driver. He and his mother are mad about cars and even listen car races on records (LPs). Chefwick is one of the best lockpickers in New York. He’s also crazy about trains. Alan Greenwood is good generalist. The group manage to get into the Coliseum but Greenwood is caught, with the diamond. However, he has swallowed the rock so the group still has chance to get it, but they need to get Greenwood out of the prison. And then their problems only start.

This is a fun crime novel, from the criminals’ perspective. They all know each other and trust each other. All five also have distinct personalities and so has Major Iko who is very fond of gathering information about the men he works with. Iko is also worried about the costs but has to deliver equipment to the five men, when they need it. The plot moves at a fast pace and has a lot of twists in it.