The Nixon Recession Caper
by Norton, $5.95
This is a novel of light comedy, decent to read and quite funny, by a writer who whether from experience or observation knows a good deal about the effects of alcohol and the effects of the recession in Eastern suburbia. The title is slightly misleading, for Ralph Maloney is making fun not of the Nixon Administration, but of a bunch of New York big shots who once earned large sums in Manhattan and who now are flat broke.
The caper takes place in Southport, which could be any one of the snobbish, well-to-do towns in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and the man who originates it is Sanford Campbell, the attractive and, until recently, successful investment broker. Sandy owes everyone money and is uncertain how long his credit will last at the Southport Country Club. Indeed, the recession has hit him so hard that he counts on the arrival of his unemployment check, which he is too proud to cash in his regular bank in Southport; apologetically he takes his checks to a small branch bank in the Vista shopping center, a projection so new that no customers seem to have discovered it. The manager and cashiers of the Vista branch of the County Trust Company are as strange to Sandy as he is to them. Casually he notices how open and innocent the little place is, and his business instinct tells him that the A & P supermarket next door and the discount house and one or two other shops in the center are probably its main depositors. Sandy also notices that there are fewer than twenty cars in the vast parking area. As he drives home with momentary cash in his pocket and debts weighing heavily on his mind, the big idea hits him—why wouldn’t it be the simplest thing in the world to rob that defenseless little bank?
He must find accomplices as respectable as himself and as a shortcut he drives to the country club and strips from the bulletin board the list of members who have been posted for nonpayment of accounts. The three men most heavily in arrears are not known to him personally, but he admires the way they have been spending money they haven’t got and he figures that they must be just about as desperate as he is. So he introduces himself to them over the telephone and invites them to a luncheon at the club.
The three conspirators are an odd assortment: the most glamorous is Harry Price, star of stage, screen, and radio, whose Hollywood agent has gypped him and whose often-married wife, Betsy, is using her claws; the most conscientious is Sam Deitsch, a dress manufacturer, who had the bad luck to gamble on midis and now has a warehouse of dresses he can’t sell; and the biggest physically is Jack Carmody, a former advertising executive in charge of cigarette advertising on TV. Mrs. Carmody has taken a secretarial job to keep the home fires burning, and Jack has taken to the bottle. Sandy Campbell was quite right in his suspicion: all three are busted, and once they get over the initial shock, the thought of ready cash is more than they can resist.
The guest cottage in the woods behind the Campbell home becomes their place of business. Here they establish a new firm by the name of Four Talents, Limited, incorporated in Delaware, with fancy letterhead and name checks: under this ruse they will invest the money that they intend to steal. Carmody had been an infantry officer in the war, and the habit of command comes back to him. It is he who orders their disguises and their guns, and he whose formidable presence prevents their leaking any details to their wives, who are wild with curiosity.
How much their holdup yields, what they do with the money, how they divert themselves against the possibility of detection when it is known that the FBI has been called in are some of the mysteries that make this novel fun. A more unlikely mob of thieves and their molls was never brought together.