GOOD BEHAVIOR: THE LETTY DOBESH CHRONICLES (2016)
By Blake Crouch
Thomas and Mercer, 290 pages.
By now many of you have seen episodes of the TV series from which the above book has been adapted. Give Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery credit for stretching herself–Letty Dobesh is no Lady Mary. In fact, she's no "lady" at all, though she can pass for one when she's not in jail or strung out on crystal meth. The title is ironic, with "good behavior" referencing both early release from prison and a demeanor of which Letty is incapable. Letty is a thief, a world-class pickpocket, an addict, a divorcee, a thrill-seeker, and isn't above turning a trick now and then. She has a son, but not custody because, in short, she's about as much bad news as one can cram into a single beautiful body. She is, however, a very good thief and con artist, which makes her irresistible for anyone looking to assemble a team devoted to nefarious purposes.
Good Behavior is actually three novellas packaged under one cover. In "The Pain of Others," Letty is newly paroled and working heists in an Asheville, North Carolina luxury hotel. During one "pull," things go wrong—do they ever go "right" is such stories?–and she is forced to duck into a closet to avoid detection. There she overhears a deal being struck between a contract killer and a husband wishing to have his wife dispatched. What would you do if you were Letty? Is it any of her business? This story has a nice twist to it.
In "Sunset Key," Letty is in Florida where her contact, the shadowy Javier, sets her up with John Fitch, the CEO of an energy company who is about to report to federal prison and wants a sybaritic weekend before he goes away for a few years. Letty is led to believe that she is basically a high-priced hooker. As the cliché goes, things get complicated.
The final story, "Grab" is a story of crooks seeking to steal from another crook—in this case, a Vegas casino owner whose stash is allegedly burglary-proof. Letty thinks so too, but if the team pulls it off, she could probably retire on the payoff.
I was a big fan of Crouch's alt.universe Dark Matter, which I found thought provoking and unique. I can't say the same about Good Behavior, which reads like what it is: short narrative treatments he wanted to convert to scripts and franchise as a TV series. I don't watch television, so maybe these stories are terrific on the small screen. As literature, though, these stories flunk the sniff test. They are clichéd, predictable, histrionic, and underwritten (as, indeed, they would be if the script is the ultimate goal). It's as if Crouch figured he'd sell scads of these if the TV show struck popular chords. Letty is an intriguing character, though one wonders what it says about our society when we begin to admire characters like her or Breaking Bad's Walter Hartwell White. In fact, I wondered how much of White went into conceiving of Dobesh. That might be an unfair rap on my part, but I do have a pretty good grasp of mediocre prose when I see it. Cross this one off your wish list, folks.