Asphalt Jungle

Add to Cart

Categories: Classic Literature
Publisher: RosettaBooks | Date published: 08/26/2002


The perfect crime goes awry in W.R. Burnett's tough and brutally wise 1949 novel The Asphalt Jungle, and the problem is, in the end, human nature. Told in 40 short, blunt but richly atmospheric chapters, the novel meticulously details the planning and execution of a major jewel heist. The robbery is devised by Doc Reimenschneider, a master criminal just out of prison. It requires the involvement of a variety of different people, from the muscle--an itinerant hood named Dix, an overgrown country boy lost in the city--to the fence, a successful but sleazy lawyer named Alonzo Emmerich. The ever-growing cast of characters in this can't-miss scheme will ultimately be its downfall, though, in an atmosphere where suspicion and double-cross destroy the pipe dreams of each of the participants. Burnett wrote the kind of crime novels that would be described, in current Hollywood parlance, as "character-driven." What is ultimately fascinating about The Asphalt Jungle isn't the heist or the planning of it, but the people involved, how and why they are brought to this point, and what the chemistry of the situation does to them. The point of view changes throughout the novel, and not just within the gang of conspirators. There are also an honest but embattled police commissioner, attempting to enforce the law (on both sides of it), and a cynical reporter named Farbstein. "Like Diogenes he'd been looking for an honest man for a long time," Burnett writes of Farbstein, "and he had begun to feel that the flame in his lantern would splutter out before he found him." The Asphalt Jungle finds its "honest man" in Dix, a petty crook who, in his own way, is as decent as the "good guys," the commissioner and the reporter. A man who always seems angrily out of his element, Dix longs to leave the rat race of the city and return to the idealized country setting of his childhood. He thinks the jewel heist might make his dream possible. In spite of what happens, he comes close--painfully, wistfully, with punishing irony.