4 out of 4 stars
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If there’s one thing I love more than a heist story, it’s a heist story where everything goes spectacularly, hilariously wrong. Enter Burn One Down, a contemporary crime caper of humorous proportions by Jeffrey A. Cooper. When small-time thief Jack Apple meets a beautiful woman named Diane Thomas who offers him a low-risk, six-figure gig to rob a medical marijuana dispensary, he gleefully thinks he has hit pay dirt. That’s because, as a result of California’s labyrinthine laws regulating the sale and use of medical marijuana, all of the state’s pot shops are technically operating illegally—which means at any one time, their vaults could be filled with thousands of dollars in cold hard cash. And if some of that money were to go missing, it’s not likely that anyone would be making a fuss to draw attention to themselves. In other words, it was the perfect job, one that couldn’t have come at a better time. With dreams of getting out of the game, Jack was looking forward to retiring with a sizable nest egg.
Unfortunately, Diane has other plans. Since the heist was her idea, she vehemently insists on tagging along to protect her own venture, much to Jack’s chagrin. And despite her promises to stay out of the way, feisty Diane just can’t help inserting herself into the operation, with a handgun and a trigger-happy finger. Before long, their carefully planned robbery devolves into a fully-fledged hostage situation amidst a sea of cannabis activists, civil rights protesters, angry mobsters, power-jockeying politicians, and a legion of rubberneckers and other opportunists looking to profit from the media circus. Who knew stealing from a bunch of potheads would be so complicated?
What follows within these pages is a rollicking comedy of errors that will provide sidesplitting laughs to readers following Jack and Diane’s escapades. Their criminal partnership is quite possibly the most dysfunctional one I’ve ever seen! Luckily for us though, their antics drive much of the humor in the story and creates a steady stream of witty, wisecracking dialogue. Murphy’s Law is also in full effect as one small misstep inevitably winds up snowballing into a series of escalating disasters, and soon Jack finds himself with his hands full attempting to put out multiple fires, with boisterous results.
In addition, there are a lot of other unique characters involved. As the plot’s scope broadens, we get to meet a whole host of vivid personalities including Jack and Diane’s uncooperative hostages, a police chief who is more concerned with delivering a snappy soundbite than with catching the bad guys, and even the competing reporters from the local news networks who are all scrambling to inject their own spin. But among the supporting cast, perhaps the most memorable to me was Jamal White, an ordinary citizen fallen on hard times who unwittingly gets caught up in the middle of the hubbub while simply trying to catch a bus home.
To wit, this book isn’t all just fun and games. At its heart, Burn One Down might be a wildly entertaining yarn about a heist gone wrong, but author Jeffrey A. Cooper also deftly traverses that fine line between satire and social commentary. There are deeper messages woven beneath the surface here about institutional racism, government corruption, marijuana legalization, political activism, and even media sensationalism. While many of these issues are portrayed in a comedic way, one does get the sense Cooper is attempting to draw attention to our society’s shortcomings by shining a light on certain injustices and absurdities.
Quite honestly, I would be hard-pressed to find anything too negative to say about this novel; I had so much fun with it! The introduction might have been a bit protracted, leading to a slower start, but once the story takes off, it becomes a fast-paced thrill ride that doesn’t stop. The book also appears carefully proofread and edited, for I did not come across any obvious errors while reading. Overall, this book was well-written and professionally presented, making it a joy to read.
For all these reasons and more, I rate Burn One Down by Jeffrey A. Cooper a hearty 4 out of 4 stars. Fans of quirky capers and laugh-out-loud humor will definitely want to pick this up, and I daresay readers seeking deeper meaning may also find much to appreciate in the book’s subtler themes.
Burn One Down
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