Book: Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

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Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts

Author: Julian Rubinstein
Publisher: Little, Brown

Elmore Leonard meets Franz Kafka in the wild, improbably true story of the legendary outlaw of Budapest.

Attila Ambrus was a gentleman thief, a sort of Cary Grant—if only Grant came from Transylvania, was a terrible professional hockey goalkeeper, and preferred women in leopard-skin hot pants. During the 1990s, while playing for the biggest hockey team in Budapest, Ambrus took up bank robbery to make ends meet. Arrayed against him was perhaps the most incompetent team of crime investigators the Eastern Bloc had ever seen: a robbery chief who had learned how to be a detective by watching dubbed Columbo episodes; a forensics man who wore top hat and tails on the job; and a driver so inept he was known only by a Hungarian word that translates to Mound of Ass-Head.

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is the completely bizarre and hysterical story of the crime spree that made a nobody into a somebody, and told a forlorn nation that sometimes the brightest stars come from the blackest holes. Like The Professor and the Madman and The Orchid Thief, Julian Rubinstein’s bizarre crime story is so odd and so wicked that it is completely irresistible.


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It was apparent to all onlookers that Attila Ambrus was not a brilliant hockey goalkeeper. Sensing that his future lay elsewhere, young Attila searched for a new career. He found it in armed robbery. With a personal flair that would have impressed John Dillinger, the dapper Transylvanian robbed dozens of Hungarian banks, bestowing flowers on every female bank employee and thoughtfully leaving champagne for harried police investigators. In the post-Communist thaw, this articulate, well-dressed gentleman thief became a folk hero, inspiring songs and newspaper tributes. After being finally captured, he gave televised interviews from his prison cell, confessing, “I always liked fast money, women, and cars.” He remained in custody only half a year, escaping soon after he realized that the officials who he had outwitted intended to make an example of him. Julian Rubinstein’s narrative of Central Europe’s Whiskey Robber is one of the most endearing true crime stories in years.

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