The Stakes, Ben Sanders

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

THE STAKES is the latest noir thriller from NZ writer Ben Sanders, and it's a standout. Set once again in the US, this time NYPD detective Miles Keller is onto what he thinks is a pretty good idea; ripping off rich New York criminals, with a view to early, anonymous retirement. I mean really, what could go wrong? Other than the NYPD investigation into his suspected shooting of a hitman and the reappearance in his life of fellow scammer Nina Stone? Or is it the tricky complication of the go-to-thug, Bobby Dean, brother of the aforementioned dead hitman, dispatched by Stone's estranged, gangster husband to find her? What with him being somebody with a big grudge against Keller for obvious reasons. Or is it the likelihood that his latest rip off, which netted him quite a tidy sum, but left a few bodies and some tricky consequences, is in danger of exploding all over him?

You'll find all these twists and turns laid out in an easy to follow manner here with just enough info to keep you up to date, and never enough to get in the road of the break neck pace that everything in THE STAKES operates under. Needless to say, "it's complicated" is the status update made to measure for this scenario. Delivered at lightening fast pace, it's also almost funny in places, and Miles Keller is one of those wonderfully wrong sorts of characters that you can't help but hope gets away with it all. What happens to Nina, what happens to Keller, and what happens to Nina's estranged husband are all part of the equation, as is the lurking Dean, and the chances that the last rip off that Keller perpetrated might come back to bite him in a big way.

Loved THE STAKES, it's got plenty of substance to back up the style that's always been there, with a strong plot, and some realistic, conflicted characters, all of which combine to explore a surprisingly interesting question - what happens when a supposedly good guy takes on the bad guys at their own game?

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Rip-offs are a dangerous game, but NYPD robbery detective Miles Keller thinks he's found a good strategy: rip off rich New York criminals and then retire early, before word's out about his true identity. New town, new name, no worries.

Retirement can't come soon enough, though. The NYPD is investigating him for the shooting of a hitman named Jack Deen, who was targeting Lucy Gates - a former police informant and Miles's ex-lover.

Miles thinks shooting hitmen counts as altruism, but in any case a murder charge would make life difficult. He's ready to go to ground, but then Nina Stone reappears in his life.

Nina is a fellow heist professional and the estranged wife of LA crime boss Charles Stone. Miles last saw her five years ago, when he was investigating her for bank robbery and looked the other way, for reasons he is still trying to figure out. Since then her life has grown more complicated: her husband wants her back, and he's dispatched his go-to gun thug to play repo man. 

Complicating matters is the fact that the gun thug in question is Bobby Deen, cousin of the dead Jack Deen - and Bobby wants vengeance.

The stakes couldn't be higher, but Nina has an offer that could be lucrative. Maybe Miles can stick around a while longer and get the big payoff he's been waiting for? But luck has a way of running out and soon Miles is in way over his head.

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