The Thought Gang

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Eddie Coffin is neither a typical philosopher nor a typical bank robber, and he makes the unlikeliest combination of the two. Having embezzled funds from a foundation at Cambridge University, he leaves England to lie low in France. Once there, he promptly crashes his rented car in a fiery wreck, losing his embezzled cash in the process.

When Hubert, a small-time hoodlum with a glass eye and prosthetic arm and leg, attempts to rob Eddie in his hotel room, he has nothing to offer. After a long philosophical discussion, during which Hubert reveals that he was released from prison that morning, Eddie allows Hubert to stay in his room for the night. In the morning, he tells Hubert, “There comes a point in life when you’ve got to go out and rob a bank.”

Using Hubert’s gun, they rob the nearest bank, then make their getaway to a local restaurant. Eddie discovers that Jocelyne, the bank manager who had handed over the cash, also gave him her telephone number. He calls her later, and they begin dating.

Hubert later discloses that he has been talking with representatives of the media and has attached the appellation “The Thought Gang” to the two of them. He decides that he and Eddie should continue robbing banks, using different philosophical styles. He continues to taunt the police, at one point stating in advance that they will rob five banks in a single day and offering to abandon a robbery if an employee of the bank is able to discuss philosophy intelligently with them.

Along the way, Hubert mixes with several gangs of old enemies and the pair acquires the enmity of a Corsican policeman, whom Hubert takes great joy in taunting. They announce one final job, naming the bank in advance and daring the police to prevent the robbery.

As Hubert becomes more immersed in philosophy, Eddie begins to realize why he embarked on its study. Scattered throughout the novel are asides about various philosophers and schools of thought, as well as insights into the human condition and, for reasons that are not made entirely clear, dozens of words beginning with the letter “z.” The novel is both more cerebral and more slapstick than Tibor Fischer’s first book, UNDER THE FROG, a darkly comedic look at life in Hungary during the 1940’s and 1950’s.