W.R. Burnett's brutally wise novel The Asphalt Jungle (1949) tells how the perfect crime can go easily awry when human nature is a factor, as it always is. Told in short, richly atmospheric chapters, the novel details the planning and execution of a major jewel heist. The robbery is devised by Doc Reimenschneider, a master criminal who has just been released from prison and will require the involvement of a number of people--including the muscle and itinerant hood named Dix, an overgrown country boy, andthe fence, a successful but sleazy lawyer named Alonzo Emmerich. The cast of characters will ultimately be the scheme's very downfall in an atmosphere rife with suspicion and double-crossing.
The spelling out of the planning in The Asphalt Jungle is fascinating, but what truly grips the audience is the people who are involved and why they come to this point and what the chemistry of the situation does to them. The point of view shifts throughout the novel, providing surprising and deep insights into the characters and our culture at large.
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January 25, 2002
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