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Crooked Gold: A Jack Swift Case

by Carl Knauf

Rating: ****

Smooth criminal Jack Swift is on the mysterious trail of some 18th Century Spanish treasure, one gold coin at a time. But, in the spirit of the hunt, he decides to let his old adversary, veteran detective Jim Beckett, in on the game while attempting to stay one step ahead. However, will Beckett get wise to Swift’s clues or will his nemesis elude him again?...

Crooked Gold is fun, fast and intriguing. Jack Swift is pitched perfectly and remains the right side of credulity. He is everything the reader wants him to be and yet has an edge of vulnerability which keeps the pages turning. There are a couple of brief references to the actor, Steve McQueen, which is fitting as Swift certainly has a touch of Thomas Crown about him, and his cunning exploits in Crooked Gold certainly left me wanting to read more.

From early on, the reader is given a clear sense of both Swift and Jim Beckett. Beckett manages to avoid cliché and, unusually, for a book employing a cat and mouse storyline, he is not envious of Swift but views him more as an amusing enigma to crack along with the puzzles that Swift sets for him. The pleasure for Beckett is in the chase and solution, not the capture.

Both men have backstory which I expect will be developed further in the next instalments but the reader is given enough in Crooked Gold to connect some of the dots of their behaviour. The supporting cast are all efficiently portrayed, especially Beckett’s colleague, Charles Fleming, who evolves into a fairly central character by the time the reader is hurtling towards the conclusion.

There is a broad brush-stroke of humour painted over both the dialogue and the action. At times, the narrative resembles a frenetic farce as Beckett and Co., tear around the world chasing Swift and his hints, while evading cartel bosses and corrupt federal agents. However, the subtle comedy disguises what is an incredibly clever and detailed plot that encompasses the worlds of art, music, and history set against some fantastic and wonderfully realised locations.

Notwithstanding the breakneck speed and occasionally tongue-in-cheek narrative events, Crooked Gold never becomes far-fetched which is due to the meticulous knowledge of, and research in, both the geography and related historical events. It reassures the plot and provides authenticity to the story.

As mentioned, the novel is fast-paced with the quick-witted prose and rapid-fire dialogue ably complementing the breezy tempo. Nonetheless, the writing is occasionally a little too sharp for its own good, there are a couple of pockets of awkward phrasing but these are ironed out as the book progresses.

Crooked Gold is an entertaining and deceptively well-plotted crime caper. Well worth a read.

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