cover image Thought Gang

Thought Gang

Tibor Fischer. New Press, $18.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-1-56584-286-1

A fat, middle-aged British philosopher turns glutton, slacker, embezzler and thief in Fischer's second novel (after Under the Frog), an infectiously immoral tale about bank robbery in contemporary France. We meet Greek philosophy don Eddie Coffin as he goes on the lam from Cambridge, where, to avoid what he despises above all--work--he has stolen the funds of a Japanese foundation, stashing them in a suitcase. Not far from Lyon, a car accident sends his carefully cached funds up in smoke, leaving him one choice: to rob banks, a trade he learns under the tutelage of crippled thug Hubert. Together, the duo are drunk, lazy and violent, but in such an innocent way that it's hard to begrudge them their subsequent fantastic run of bank-robbing luck. Coffin's stylized first-person narration (numbered in sections, like a philosophical treatise) can be grating, but eventually even wisecracks about Epictetus and Zeno--as well as Coffin's unexplained fascination with words that begin with the letter Z--become part of the fun. The juxtaposition of egghead metaphysics and juvenile gangster fantasy is summed up in the line, ``The thing about a gun is, it's like being on the right side of a Socratic dialogue.'' Often complex in structure, incorporating flashbacks of Coffin's old friends and family to touching effect, this jaunty novel is fundamentally an exercise in wish-fulfillment: shoot guns, get cash, spend it on French food. (May)