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Dope Thief Hardcover – April 28, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ray, the 30-year-old protagonist of Tafoya's raw and redemptive debut, is a sure bet loser. His mother's dead, his abusive father in prison. His own lengthy record includes car theft, burglary and a two-year jail stint. For the past year, Ray and his buddy Manny have been robbing dope dealers and meth labs in the Philadelphia area. Ray and Manny hit small operations disguised as DEA agents, knowing their victims can't go to the cops and don't have the resources to come after them. Inevitably, a job goes bad, resulting in gunshots and death. With too much money at stake and serious bad guys on his trail, Ray realizes that the criminal phase of his life is over. Tafoya gradually reveals pieces of Ray's past while detailing his increasingly desperate efforts to rid himself of those dogging him and threatening anyone connected to him. A boy born into the life makes a wrenching attempt to change course or die trying in a first novel that marks Tafoya as a writer to watch. (May)
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From Booklist

Ray and Manny, flashing bogus badges and wearing DEA windbreakers purchased at a “flea market in Jersey,” take down small drug dealers in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It’s easy and lucrative, but they know it can’t last: “Everyone was high. Everyone was stupid. Everyone had guns.” Reality, in the form of New England bikers trying to muscle into the Philadelphia–New Jersey drug trade, rears its head quickly, and Ray and Manny are on the run. But that’s only half of this fine first novel. An abusive, criminal father and a number of jail stints beginning in high school seem to have doomed Ray to relive his father’s sordid life, but Ray is a bright man looking for a shot at redemption. When it comes, redemption is both unlikely and interesting. Tafoya is off to a promising start: Ray and a number of other characters are quirky and engaging. The locale of Bucks County, which ranges from city gritty to bucolic beauty, works well. The plotting is solid, and the action has a hard, violent edge that recalls Richard Price. --Thomas Gaughan

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031253115X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312531157
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,611,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dennis Tafoya is from Philadelphia and is the author of two novels, Dope Thief and The Wolves of Fairmount Park, as well as numerous short stories appearing in collections such as Philadelphia Noir, from Akashic Books. His third novel, The Poor Boy's Game, is coming from Minotaur Books in April, 2014.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The other five-star reviewers have all made wonderful points in their assessment of this book, points that I would not have been able to make, which is the neat thing about allowing readers to write reviews (whether favorable or unfavorable). As for me, one of the most impressive aspects of Dope Thief is that I found myself truly caring about the characters, especially Ray, but also his doomed-to-the-lifestyle partner-in-crime, Manny, his step-mom, Theresa, and even his father, Bart. I can't tell you how many books I have read, even highly acclaimed ones, where I stopped halfway through as I came to realize that (1) I didn't care one bit about the characters, non even the main one(s) and (2) I didn't care how the book ended. I simply lost interest--or never had much interest to begin with--and stopped reading. That wasn't the case with Dope Thief.

Dope Thief is one that I read slowly and savored, because I sensed that I had something special in my hands. The dialogue is perfect, the plot flows smoothly, and the inner workings of Ray and his life story are wonderful. As I said, you really come to care about Ray, the hurts he has suffered, the poor choices he has made, and his attempt at redemption. And when he and Manny rip off the wrong meth-cookers/dealers, I can almost guarantee you that you will feel scared.

My only concern is that the title of the book may turn off potential readers, yet at the same time, it is a perfect title. Hopefully word of mouth will spread like wildfire so that other readers, even ones who don't typically read this genre or who may dismiss it because of the title, will be able to enjoy this wonderful book. Actually, I have one more concern, and that is for the author.
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Format: Hardcover
I never thought I'd be recommending a book about low-life (as they describe themselves) criminals who are involved in one act of bloody violence after another, but this is a brilliant novel by a new writer who is starting at the top of the form. Yes, it's hard to put down -- not simply because of the brisk and visual and even poetic writing style, but also because it has characters delineated with great delicacy and honesty. I can't wait for Tafoya's next book.
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Format: Hardcover
Dope Thief is easily one of the best books I've read this year, a remarkable combination of action and dread, brains and heart, with everything I look for in great crime fiction, and more. While the "mystery" on the cover is certainly a misnomer, there is mystery within it, as well as a great plot and characters that live and breathe and suffer and change and stay with you long after you have put the book down.
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Format: Hardcover
Ray and Manny have stumbled across a sweet deal in the mean streets of Philadelphia. Staking out small-time drug dealers, the two petty criminals (and addicts) have methodically knocked over one drug dealer after another. Armed with DEA-marked jackets and reasonable facsimiles of badges hung around their necks on chains, the pair moves in on small operations, making off with drugs and cash by the time the players realize they have been played. Friends since they first met in juvie, Ray and Manny are already marred by the narrow expectations of the criminal drug culture, both happy to enjoy the fruits of their labor until the drugs and the money run out and its time for another score. But Ray is haunted by the tragic death of a young woman he loved and the repercussions he suffered after the accident that took her life. Sometimes, in the haze of his drug-slogged brain, those few happy memories surface and Ray wonders what might have been.

Tafoya sets his drama in a bleak atmosphere of dead end lives caught in a vicious cycle of rampant drug use and the seductive profit that flows from illegal enterprise, his protagonist blindly stumbling from one score to another until the partners happen upon an unbelievable amount of money and drugs in a farmhouse meth lab. By the time they settle down to count the booty, Ray and Manny realize they have raided a large operation sure to lead to serious-even deadly- consequences. Before long, both men are the object of an intense search to recover the thousands they have stolen. On the run and under the gun, things quickly get very ugly, Ray and Manny temporarily removing their loved ones from the line of fire as the pressure builds. On the edge of panic, Ray barely maneuvers from one brush with danger to another with little hope of survival.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This starts so well, it does everything you hope the 'literary thriller' genre will do, it's as good as Richard Lange's award-winning story in DEAD BOYS which is as good as this sort of thing -- these days the preferred route for young male authors -- ever gets. However, it does slow down some about 70% of the way through, but only out of the evident ambition to work out real life consequences of the hardboiled plot rather than take the route of those who are only referring to in their minds to movies they've seen in which a climactic shootout wraps everything up.

Tafoya is more ambitious than say Charlie Huston or Duane Swierczynski, whose novels tend to bleed into each other and share that trashy quality summed up by "I couldn't put it down -- because I never wanted to pick it up again!" Tafoya's better and hopefully he'll develop; certainly I will buy anything he writes until and unless he repeatedly lets me down.
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