A Book Spy Review: ‘The Stakes’ by Ben Sanders

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The StakesMiles Keller gives a whole new meaning to the words ‘robbery detective’ in New Zealand author Ben Sanders’ latest novel, The Stakes

Miles Keller is a dirty cop. A veteran detective of the NYPD’s robbery division, Keller is currently on suspension while being investigated for a shooting. Previously, he shot and killed a hitman named Jack Dean, who had gone after Keller’s ex-girlfriend, Lucy Gates, who was also one of his informants. In Keller’s mind, Jack Dean was a scumbag, and while the shooting might not be justified by department standards, he justified it by telling himself that any time you can rid the earth of a scumbag, it’s a good day. 

Therein lies the conundrum for Keller and for readers. Sanders’ protagonist might be a cop, but that is essentially the only thing separating him from the criminals he goes after. 

Living by the logic that “big money often means big risks,” Keller targets the city’s biggest criminals, ripping them off to pad his own coffer. When readers first meet him, he’s planning to steal from a wealthy attorney who gets paid in cash by shady clients to be their go-between. The take, well over two hundred thousand dollars, means he needs some backup — and he brings on a hardened felon to lend a hand. 

While the story starts off straight-forward and easy to follow, Sanders switches things up by introducing Bobby Dean, Jack’s cousin, who is also a hitman, but out of California. Dean is on the payroll of a Los Angeles-based gangster, who sends him to New York to locate Nina Stone. It turns out that Stone, who is back in NYC for the first time in half a decade, has a history with Keller, stemming from an investigation into a bank robbery five years ago. For reasons he’s still unsure of himself, Keller looked the other way and let Stone skate. Now she’s back, complicating matters for him. 

With several big scores under his belt, Keller is ready to get off the grid before the shooting investigation is complete. He’s worked too hard to rip off dangerous criminals just to live out his days in a prison cell, but before he can go to ground, Stone asks for his help with one last job — a major heist with a take big enough for them to both disappear forever. 

To pull it off, Keller will need to stay one step ahead of his colleagues and bosses in the NYPD and dodge Dean, the vicious hitman who has an ax to grind with him. That’s all on top of planning and executing the job Stone has in mind. There are big risks for sure, but then again, there always are when big money is in play. . . 

For being from New Zealand, Ben Sanders does a nice job of mostly getting the American setting right. The book mostly takes place in New York City, with other parts occurring in California. There aren’t any glaring inaccuracies (there are some minor things) that might otherwise take readers out of the story, which is good because Sanders asks readers to suspend their disbelief plenty already. 

The idea of dirty cops robbing criminals isn’t new. Don Winslow set the bar for this type of setup with The Force (2017), and while Sander’s latest isn’t anywhere close to that level, it’s still a solid crime novel. Fans of the FX television show The Shield may see parallels to the running storyline where the characters ripped of the Armenian money train, and several themes from the show’s final season.

While the plot is interesting and entertaining, there is surprisingly little character development. And with no real hero to root for, readers may struggle with caring much about the overall outcome. That said, fans of these types of gritty, antihero-driven crime thrillers will devour Sanders’ The Stakes, which moves fast, sucking readers in early and rarely letting them up for air. 

Book Details

Author: Ben Sanders 
Pages: 336 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1250140110
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their five children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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