I was probably about 11 when I first read this book (I’ve read it about eleventy billion times since then) and it was the first book I had ever read that made me go, “OH MY GOD! THEY’RE HAVING SEX! THERE ARE LURID DESCRIPTIONS OF A P in a V! AND THRUSTING!” Of course I became convinced that the Baby Jesus somehow knew that I was reading dirty books and that I was going to be punished severely for it, so I swore to myself that I was never going to read dirty books again. Moments later, I had myself convinced that if God didn’t want me to read dirty books, then He shouldn’t have created Sidney Sheldon to write them and He wouldn’t have let my grandpa buy them at the swap meet for $0.10 each and leave them where my precocious 11-year-old self could find them. So there. In my 11-year-old head, I saw it as permission from God to read all the dirty books I could get my little hands on.
I totally read this as a White Collar fan fic, by the way. I THINK ABOUT YOU NIGHT AND DAY, MATT BOMER! I LOVED YOU IN Magic Mike!!! ONE DAY WE WILL MEET AND YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE WITH ME!! Ahem. Turn the lights out… it’s time to get criminal… criminally hot, that is.
The Plot as I Understood It Tracy Whitney is a pretty, pretty girl—the original wide-eyed ingenue—who turns heads and sets the tongues wagging. Here she is walking to her big, important job at the bank, smiling and blushing prettily with her bouncy, bouncy hair and her smart, but fashionable office-girl suit, to the tune of Girl from Ipanema. And Tracy has every reason to be happy! Her loving mother, who has been totally bummed out ever since her dad died, is almost certainly back to her old self; her fiance Charles is one of the—if not the—most eligible bachelors in Philadelphia; all her hard work at the bank as the “computer expert” is about to pay off with super-awesome promotion; and Tracy Whitney is about to become a mommy! Sure, Charles is not the sexiest guy in the world, but he’s really dependable and kind and seems really happy about the baby and Tracy is super-sure that he’d make the best husband and daddy ever. But bad things happen to good people. REALLY bad things. After a particularly disastrous meeting with Charles’ parents—they don’t think she’s good enough for Charles because she’s… well, kind of poor—Tracy gets a call from the police in Louisiana and finds out that her mother has killed herself. Tracy is distraught and flabbergasted because she thought her mom has been doing okay, but upon some investigation, she finds out that her mom had been swindled by a gangster named Joe Romano and killed herself due to heartbreak and humiliation. Armed only with a gun purchased from a pawnshop and shaky gumption, Tracy takes it upon herself to avenge her mother’s death and goes to Romano’s penthouse to force him at gunpoint to sign a confession. Silly little girl. Obviously Joe Romano is super-evil and tries to rape Tracy on top of laughing in her face and in the struggle, Tracy shoots him. She shakily cleans herself up and leaves the penthouse, thinking she has killed him, and rushes to the airport, where she promptly gets arrested. She begs for Charles’ help, but predictably, the douchewad is more concerned with his family’s reputation and tells her she do whatever she wants with her baby and to never contact him again. Oh, and by the way, even though the gun shot didn’t kill Romano, he’s telling everyone that Tracy’s real purpose for sneaking into his penthouse and shooting him was to steal a priceless painting, which she must have undoubtedly already fenced in Europe or something. With no money and no support system, Tracy is saddled with a public defender who tells her to plead guilty because he’s sure he can get a sweetheart deal from a lenient judge who’d probably give her time-served because she’s a first-time offender and a good girl and she won’t have to go to prison. With no reason to believe that this nice attorney person would screw her over, Tracy agrees to the deal and BLAM! It turns out that the public defender and the judge are both in the pockets of the Ultimate Crime Boss of New Orleans and consequently, is also the boss of Joe Romano. Fifteen to twenty five years, sucker. An insurance detective by the name of Daniel Cooper figures out that Tracy is innocent (not so innocent, come on! bitch shot a guy!) and has nothing to do with the painting being stolen and visits her in jail, but does nothing to help her (after all, he figured, it’s none of his business). Tracy screams, “Wait, I’m innocent!” even as they slam the prison bars in her face and she spends the next few years going through some shit that would make even Andy Dufresne turn green and pass out. Andy does get a 1-up on Tracy, though, since he gets to crawl though five hundred yards of sewer, but Andy doesn’t get a dirty, unsterilized speculum shoved up his cooch (after it’s been inside God-knows-how-many-women) and he doesn’t spontaneously (SPOILER ALERT!) miscarry a baby after getting beaten up and gang-raped by a bunch of angry, sex-hungry, prison-depraved lesbians. Wait a minute… I’d forgotten about “the Sisters.” Those dudes totally raped Andy every day. So maybe Tracy and Andy are almost Even Stevens. Tracy even gets a magical black friend named Ernestine Littlechap who protects her from all lesbians who want to feast on her young, supple white flesh!
And that’s just the first part of the book! After being released from prison by the governor himself when she saves the prison warden’s daughter from drowning (natch!), Tracy has somehow morphed into an Emma Peel-Catwoman-Macgyver genius super-thief-slash-agent-provocateur and hits the ground running with her own personal “fuck you” list. She takes care of all the men responsible for sticking her in prison in short order—one after the other, like a domino—and sets out to get on with the rest of her life. But Little Tracy Whitney, prison-hardened and just a tiny bit jaded, discovers that no one is willing to hire an ex-convict. Her old boss at the bank who used to kiss her ass laughs in her face when she asks for her “computer expert” job back. With what little money she gets from scamming her old bank—she only takes what she thinks she deserves— she goes to New York, hoping for a new life. She looks up a man, who’s supposed to be “passionate” about helping ex-cons get their lives back (recommended by a fellow convict) and is dismayed to find that the only “job” he has for her is cat burglary. He owns a jewelry store and knows exactly what his clients buy, how much they’re worth, and where the clients live. Tracy tells him to fuck off and leaves. She gets a job at a department store as a clerk and gets promptly canned when a little girl who had seen her on TV cries when she recognizes Tracy as the lady “who drowned that little girl on the news.” Desperate and unable to find a more viable way to support herself, Tracy goes back to the jewelry store owner just to hear what he has to say and decides to take up a life of EVEN BIGGER CRIME. With a variety of disguises and accents and Mcgyver-like resourcefulness, Tracy is able to waltz in and out of sticky situations with millions of dollars in jewelry and priceless works of art as well as a buttload of cash. She meets her match in Jeff Stevens, a suave and handsome art/jewel thief who is just as clever and scheming as herself, and discovers that she is not quite as invulnerable to love as she once believed. As a growing army of cops, Interpol agents, and that creepy little insurance detective Daniel Cooper come after them, Tracy and Jeff must find a way to work together to pull off the biggest, most dangerous heist of their careers as the two of them slowly fall in loooooove.
I can’t believe I’ve never seen the movie version of this book. I lurve Tom Berenger. Is this shit on Netflix? I GOTZTA HAVE IT!
The Heroine If the movie was going to be remade (and doesn’t everything get remade these days?), I would totally cast Emmy Rossum as Tracy Whitney. She’s so fragile and innocent-looking, yet you know she has some hidden cunning. When the book opens, Tracy is the happiest, sparkliest, most wholesome little Mary Sue you ever did meet. She’s pretty and nice and smart and charms everyone she meets. She’s the kind of girl that everyone in a horror movie would die for, like the Final Girl; for example, if she and Hot Black Guy were running from Jason Voorhees in the woods and Hot Black Guy tripped, he’d be yelling at her to “Run, Emmy, run! For God’s sake, save yourself!” even as Jason cuts into him with a weed whacker (where did he even get one in the woods?). Seriously, how does Tracy Whitney learn how to be lock-picking, infrared-light-skipping, nimble-as-a-ballerina thief? She was raised in an upper middle class home, attended a nice private college, then worked in a bank. She is a particularly good liar and is excellent at disguises and accents, but did she really just learn that shit in college doing a couple of plays or something? Is this book some kind of sociological commentary on how prison doesn’t rehabilitate, but just makes better, smarter criminals? During her time in prison, Sidney Sheldon shows Tracy paying close attention to her fellow “Caged Heat” cellmates, especially when they’re talking about picking pockets and other methods of petty thieving. But is that enough? What kind of training do super-duper art/jewel thieves get anyway? Later on, she becomes good friends with an art connoisseur/master fence who contracts her to pull off some really high-profile heists and she just goes for it like a pro. Were there how-to-steal-shit, Karate-Kid-style montages that I’ve missed all this time? I’m telling you, I’ve read this book at least ten times and I’ve never come across those missing, integral scenes. This girl is just the Doogie Howser of thieves. She automatically knows how to disarm alarms, what to look for when casing a joint for security systems, and can outsmart any hardcore, career-criminal types with ease. In fact, she makes one particular career criminal look like a buffoon without even trying. I guess my main problem with Tracy is that… she doesn’t seem to have any vulnerabilities. Everyone loves her; she’s smarter than all the criminals put together; she’s so breathtakingly beautiful that she can use her looks to distract someone while stealing a shitload of gems; she can do anything and everyone is just… in awe of her, even the cops who want to put her away. She can do no wrong. I mean, this girl went to prison, got beaten so hard and raped there that she lost her baby; on top of that, her mom committed suicide and her fiance basically left her to rot in a prison cell. DOES THIS WOMAN NOT HAVE A BREAKING POINT?! She’s like a Catherine Anderson heroine spliced with Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne. I was surprised we don’t see Tracy kicking ass using Krav Maga or some Gun Kata or something. In fact, she is so good that there aren’t any scenes where she almost gets caught; by the time the cops get there, she’s already speeding away in a jet-ski or a parachute, her beautiful sable hair blowing in the wind as she throws back her head, laughing with delight. She always leaves the cops scratching their heads, staring at the Tracy-shaped hole on the wall with bemused amazement, saying shit like, “Impossible! How could a mere slip of a girl run away with the Hope diamond with no one the wiser? It was guarded by sharks with laser beams on their heads!” She’s like… the Sterling Archer of cat burglars. (That means she’s good at what she does, but we don’t know how it happened)
Your Hero I gotta tell ya: for such a suave, charming, ridiculously handsome, globe-trotting super-thief with a shit-eating grin and a seemingly magic penile wand in his pantalones that all the rich ladies are clamoring for, Jeff Stevens is such a… commonplace name. You’d think he should have been named Caleb or Hunter or Archer or Stone Phillips… I don’t know… I’m just spit-balling here… Neal Caffrey. **SIGH** Can I get a witness? Jeff’s mother died when he was young and his father immediately married a young woman because he didn’t want to be alone. While Jeff’s father is away on a business trip, Jeff’s young, nubile step-mother crawls into bed with him and attempts to sleep with him. Suitably creeped out, 14-year-old Jeff sneaks out of his father’s house and runs away to his uncle who owns a traveling carnival. It is through his uncle and the carny folk that Jeff learns the tricks and the trade of a professional con-man. By reading books (he especially loves history and anthropology) and observing the people around him, Jeff absorbs knowledge like a handsome thieving savant and develops an aptitude for stealing shit and lying to people in order to steal their shit. When the carnival’s knife-thrower attempts to kill him for Jell-O wrestling with the man’s wife (Ladies Love Cool Jeff), he decides it’s time to leave the carnival life and strike out on his own. Young
LL Cool Jeff Jeff meets and marries a beautiful millionaire named Louise who treats him like a cute, but none-too-bright pet she’d like to lock up in her boudoir for sexy time and not much else, while her older brother and his cronies smirk and tell Jeff to his face that Louise is a nymphomaniac who goes slavering-wild at the thought of any kind of PENIS. OH NO YOU DIDN’T. JEFF gets hella pissed and in revenge, decides to bilk $250,000 from the deserving douchecanoes. In his defense, Jeff at first tries to live a good, honest life (just like Tracy attempts to after she got her revenge against the evil bastards who cheated her mother—but society wouldn’t allow her) and even gets a job from his douchebag brother-in-law. But Budge (the brother-in-law) and his friends push and push and push Jeff until he was like, “All right, fuck it. Love don’t live here anymore. You bitches are going down” (the catalyst is Jeff finding out that Louise never loved him and only sees him as a walking, talking sex toy).
When Jeff meets Tracy, he is automatically entranced by her, but not so spell-bound that he doesn’t play “Think fast, gurl, I just stole your shit” with her. In fact, Jeff realizes that Tracy is better than him at figuring out the logistics of stealing shit and he takes advantage of that, allowing her to steal the shit first so he could steal it from her, instead. Even Tracy, as brilliant as she’s supposed to be, is no match for LL Cool Jeff’s magnetic hotness and debonaire charm. Their meet-cute is actually really… cute. Tracy is sent on her first job to steal some jewelry and Jeff intercepts her on her way to the fence by pretending to be an FBI agent who then relieves her of the jewelry. Tracy immediately figures out she’s been had and catches up to him and steals back the jewels, even manipulating a clueless airport policeman into helping her. Jeff decides from that moment on that Tracy is no dummy and begins to fall in love with her. Awesome. What I really like about Jeff is that he respects Tracy’s intelligence and cunning; sure, he thinks she’s hot, but when he realizes that she’s actually his female counterpart, he goes bonkers for her and it’s really adorable. He knows she has her own mind and admires her for it. LL Cool Jeff is a true blue feminist.
Oh My Word I swear to Bob: the only reason any of Tracy’s and Jeff’s Mickey Mouse schemes work is that their universe is populated with idiots. Maybe it’s because I’ve been become jaded by the many heist and cat burglar movies I’ve seen over the years, but all of their cons and scams are so transparent that a suspicious and particularly precocious six-year-old can figure them out. One example is the Chess Con. Everyone knows you can’t cheat at chess, but A-HA(!) you totally can and because the people surrounding Jeff and Tracy are imbeciles, they never figure out what’s going on even after Tracy and Jeff have the money and are miles away on a speedboat. Let me explain: Jeff and Tracy are on the Queen Elizabeth II bound for Europe and on board with them are the world’s two greatest chess champions. Jeff tells one chess grandmaster that Tracy wants to play him for $10,000 dollars and tells the other the same thing; in fact, Tracy will play them both simultaneously and guarantee a draw with both. Of course, the two Russians are obnoxious, sexist, misogynistic, anti-American pigs who think Tracy is just another dumb American FEMALE with too much money, so they both go along with Jeff’s challenge. You know how this is gonna go, don’t you? If you don’t, I won’t ruin it for you. All of the heists and cons that Tracy and Jeff pull on people are completely predicated on the fact that they’re incompetent, bumbling, sexist idiots. They can’t possibly believe that a woman can disguise herself, lie, and get away with stealing some priceless shit just because she can’t possibly have the brains to carry it out. A common refrain in the book is: “But she’s just one woman! How is she possibly doing any of this on her own?” Ironically, only the creepy American insurance detective believes that Tracy is capable of all the things she’s accused of and more, and this dude wants her bad. Seriously, at one point, he sneaks into her room and masturbates with her washcloth. **SHUDDER** He believes that he deserves to be the one to punish Tracy and lock her up so that no man could look upon her ever again. Double-You-Tee-Eff. Dude needs a hobby.
And yet as ridiculous this book is with its Mary Sue heroine, needlessly convoluted plot, Mickey Mouse logic, and buffoonish, stupid-as-hair villains, it’s a frickin’ blast to read. I love how larger-than-life Tracy and Jeff are and how glamorous everything is. It’s like someone took an Angelina Jolie movie, dressed it up in Joan Collins’ clothes, fed it a half dozen martini with olives, and let it loose in the Epcot Center’s version of Europe. I was thrilled to read about a heroine smarter than everyone else in the book (even if it’s because EVERYONE IN THE BOOK is a drooling, cross-eyed cretin) and can save the day blind-folded and with a hand tied behind her back. And it’s nice, once in a while, to encounter a hero who thinks the heroine is smarter than he is and firmly believes that she’s worth more than a pair of tits and three holes on slender, muscled legs. They work well together and make a good team, which makes for a pleasant, romantic read. Sure, you never get a sense that you’re reading anything more than the literary version of an imaginary (fanfic) episode of Dynasty in which Alexis pretends to be Cat Woman trying to seduce Batman as played by Jefferson D’Arcy. But that’s okay! As lurid and melodramatic and ostentatious it all is, it’s immensely readable. Hell, that’s part of the book’s charm. Reading it will give you a sense of stepping into a world of shoulder pads, gold lamé, Commodore 64, smoking-section-only in airplanes, and cheap, bottom-shelf gin, but man, what a blast. If you’re looking for a thrilling, melodramatic, heist romance, give this one a shot.
(WOO-HOO, I just found the DVD on Ebay and won the bid. I CAN’T WAIT TO WATCH THIS BITCH.)
Oh, and if you enjoy this, you might like Honest Illusions by Nora Roberts.
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