I’ll admit it. I wasn’t sure about this one.
Despite having read all of the Original Sinners series and most of the short stories/novellas set in that universe, The Bourbon Thief back cover copy didn’t catch me. And so, foolishly, I started it at 10pm the night I got it.
DUMB DUMB DUMB. You’d think, after reading and rereading eight prior books, I’d learn that Ms. Reisz keeps me up until the damn thing is finished and I’d think about it for days afterward.
The Bourbon Thief is a richly written sordid labyrinth of secrets revealed in slow, savored sips. Ridiculously wealthy Cooper McQueen takes a hot, mysterious woman home for the night and, of course, she steals his million dollar bottle of bourbon. Except, Paris says the bottle is rightfully hers, and promises by the end of her sad story he’ll not only let her keep the bottle, he’ll apologize for having it in the first place.
The book jumps between today and the late 1970’s as Paris doles out the details of the Maddox family legacy to Cooper. She takes her time telling him the story of Tamara Maddox, teenage heiress to the Maddox fortune, built on a post Civil War slave’s sale which funded the beginning of Red Thread bourbon distillery in Kentucky. Cooper is fascinated by both the woman and her attempt to keep him from pressing charges for theft.
In 1978, sixteen year old Tamara loses her spoiled attitude along with her innocence while navigating the family’s terrible secrets. Every scheming plot, every horrid fight between her and her mother, every action taken in revenge twists and turns her life in unexpected directions. The love story that threads its way through the book is just as unconventional and intense as her other works, just in different ways. Plots I can predict bore the crap out of me, and The Bourbon Thief is a maze that takes the reader down completely different (and often disturbing) paths as Paris weaves her tale to convince Cooper the bottle of 150 year old bourbon belongs to her.
I found both Cooper and Paris to be less developed characters than the rest, cutouts there purely to move the story along with narration. Cooper never develops beyond the horny rich dude who doesn’t really have much on the line here (after all, what is a $1m bottle of booze to a billionaire in the grand scheme of things?), but Paris’s background becomes clearer as the book progresses, giving her a measure of humanity that makes her less of a narrator and more of human character with complex motivations. Those in Tamara’s story, however, are the fully developed people spanning human strengths and frailties I’ve come to expect from Ms. Reisz. They have measures of both good and evil: not one person in Tamara’s world is without their own motivations for their actions, however vile or excellent.
As with Ms. Reisz’s other works, this is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for kids. Period. If you’re looking for an intense read that will keep you up ’til 2am because you can’t possibly put it down until it’s over, pick up The Bourbon Thief immediately.