The subtitle of Ballad of the Whiskey Robber (A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts) more or less sums up the book, though there were far fewer moonlighting detectives and Transylvanian pelt smuggling incidents than the cover would have you believe. Nevertheless, the true story of Attila Ambrus, Hungary’s most successful bank robber, who operated in the Wild West atmosphere of the transition to capitalism in the early 1990s, is fascinating. He was a terrible ice-hockey goalie (at one point during one of the seasons when he was a starting goalie, opposing teams had to find a way to put up double digits on their scoreboard to tally the goals scored against him) but a fairly good bank robber (or perhaps it was simply that the forces arrayed against him were so lacking!) Despite the comic tone of much of the book, though, ultimately Attila’s stint in prison where he’s allowed to develop his considerable intelligence simply points up the more tragic aspects of his story – had he been afforded any opportunity to get an education or legitimate employment, he might have been less famous and far more productive and happier.
(Read from March 1-3, 2010)