We’ve all heard the saying “there’s no honor among thieves.” We get to see that old chestnut play out in Ed Lynskey’s new action-packed crime thriller, BLOOD DIAMONDS. It follows the adventures of life-long conman Jonas Blades who has settled down into a fairly sedate lifestyle as an IT drone uncomfortably working for a harpy of a boss. Jonas isn’t terribly happy, despite – or perhaps because of – his life in the suburbs, especially since there’s some unpleasant, unresolved business in his past. You see, about nine years before the start of BLOOD DIAMONDS, Jonas was the wheelman in a diamond heist. And that heist didn’t go exactly as planned: Jonas double-crossed his fellow crooks and ended up with the diamonds, tucked away in a safe deposit box. And now Jonas’ former girlfriend and betrayed heist partner is finally getting out of prison and she’s sure to come looking for the diamonds and some payback.

BLOOD DIAMONDS begins in the present, quickly establishes the characters and their current woes, then flashes back to show how Jonas and Jacquie met and takes us through the heist and double-cross. It then returns to the present to resolve the storyline. Of course there’s plenty of action. As with most crime/heist thrillers, BLOOD DIAMONDS must succeed or fail on the strength of its characters. I’m happy to report that it succeeds handily in characterization and dialogue. Jonas is an intriguing character: he seems pretty low-key, and like all too many of us, he seems to be pretty complacent in his life of “quiet desperation.” Jonas is a man who’s been sitting on millions of dollars of stolen diamonds for years now. He’s seemingly reluctant to fence them, but he’s not the kind of guy who would just turn them (or himself) over to the police either. So he simply waits, knowing that his past is going to catch up with him some day. It’s an interesting character study. Every member of the cast of characters is a crook of one sort or another, ranging from Jonas himself, to his ex-partner, the dangerous Jacqui Mantooth, to Jacquie’s thuggish brother, to her new boyfriend, to Jonas’ new girlfriend Rita Jo. Most of these folks are more than they appear, and betrayals are a constant. And because we’re talking about several million dollars’ worth of diamonds, these folks aren’t too shy about doing whatever it takes to get their grubby mitts on the gems.

I won’t spoiler you on how this all turns out. On initial read, I was just a little dissatisfied with the ending, but after a moment’s reflection, I liked Lynsey’s closing. Your mileage may vary, but I was surprised to discover I didn’t mind being left where Lynskey’s ends the tale. We could certainly see several of these folks appear in future DC suburban crime fiction.

I’ve reviewed another of Lynskey’s crime novels set in a thinly-veiled fictional version of the Northern Virginia – my old stomping grounds – and BLOOD DIAMONDS is also set here. (See here for Lynskey’s discussion of his own personal setting.) For those of you familiar with the area, I’d place BLOOD DIAMONDS mostly in the sketchy southern end of Route 1: heading south from Alexandria and into Fairfax county going down to the Fort Belvoir area. It’s an area that’s seen better days, though is close enough to plenty of more upscale places, so it’s a good setting for criminal shenanigans.

Recommended for those who have enjoyed Ed Lynskey’s other crime fiction – you certainly won’t be disappointed here – as well as those with an interest in stories about heists and crooks betraying their fellow crooks. It’s a quick, fun read that carries you right along to a catastrophic climax.

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Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers