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

ISBN: 0316010731

ISBN13: 9780316010733

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

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Book Overview

An award-wining and "outrageously entertaining" true crime story (San Francisco Chronicle) about the professional hockey player-turned-bank robber whose bizarre and audacious crime spree galvanized Hungary in the decade after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

During the 1990s, while playing for the biggest hockey team in Budapest, Attila Ambrus took up bank robbery to make ends meet. Arrayed against him was perhaps the most incompetent...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Miracle of Nonfiction Reporting Turned into Novel Suspense

Julian Rubensten the author says in an interview he couldn't believe no other writers were jumping on this true story of a Hungarian hockey player "supplementing" his income by robbing banks in the early 1990s. Most reviewers have already summarized the plot. If I can only add some things: This is more than a page-turning comedy full of colorful criminals and real-life Keystone Cops. This is a tragedy about a man who, dismissed by his father and ridiculed by his teammates as a homeless peasant, wanted to be loved, to be accepted and to be a somebody and who used his talents, cunning, and imagination to become a grotesque criminal. Atilla, the main character, is so endearing, which attests to Rubenstein's great writing skills. Lovers of comic novels such as Confederacy of Dunces, The Gingerman or any of the farcical novels of Thomas Berger and Magnus Mills should love Ballad of a Whiskey Robber.

Even with my anticipation it did not disappoint!

I had been waiting to hear the full story surrounding the Whisky Robber since I heard a bit about him in the summer of 1997 while I was living in Hungary. I followed his crime spree, arrest, escape, and recapture even after returning home, since I found something compelling in this brazen thief. When I heard about this book, I had to have it. It definitely did not disappoint. Not only does Rubinstein write a compelling story in its "True Crime" aspects, he also paints an accurate picture of Hungary during the time of the crime spree. His book helped take me back to my time in Hungary from 1995-1997 and some of the absurdities that existed during that time and afterward. However, the story of Atilla Ambrus was even more compelling. Once I picked it up, I could not put it down. Now that I have read it, I can't stop telling everybody around me about it.

Cops and Robbers of the Absurd

Hungary's most beloved criminal, Attila Ambrus, is locked away until 2016, but even now he is interviewed on television, as a commentator on current bank robberies since he was an expert, and even the dog he had when he was free (and who will probably never see him again) makes the news now and then. Attila won't say what his immediate plans are; he says he'd "be insincere" if he made remarks about planning to escape, but he is working on getting an education, and he loves reading. He has a huge encyclopedia of Hungarian history that even mentions him as a national folk hero. This is despite his alcoholism, addiction to gambling, womanizing, and career as the worst goalie ever in professional Hungarian hockey. The bizarre story is rollickingly told in _Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts_ (Little, Brown) by Julian Rubinstein. This hugely entertaining story would fail if it were fiction; Rubinstein has done lots of research, including hours of jailhouse interviews with the hero, and it is all true, but still incredible. Attila escaped from Romania to Hungary in 1988, clinging to the bottom of a train. He wound up in Budapest penniless and friendless, and he had a funny accent. With unswerving determination, he caught on to a championship Budapest hockey club. Once he did get a chance to show his stuff on the ice, "... it didn't take long for the team to recognize the new kid's level of talent. Zero...." He didn't get paid, but he doubled as the team's janitor. He also drove the Zamboni, until while driving drunk one night, he drove it into the stands. Desperate for some better life, and for a better place to live than the stable he had found, he got drunk, put on a wig and some mascara, and knocked off a post office. It was easy. He went on to accomplish almost thirty drunken robberies over six years, always unfailingly polite to the tellers, even bringing them roses. Capture, of course, was sooner or later inevitable, as long as Attila kept playing the robbery game, and he was eventually arrested in 1999 and put into the escape-proof downtown jail. He became a television start; in interviews, he was poised, amused, and amusing, and Whiskey Robber television specials, biographies, and t-shirts all sold well. (Some of the t-shirts toted up his score of banks: "Whiskey Robber 28, Corrupt Cops 1".) His case became, as Rubinstein writes, a referendum on the government. It only became more so when Attila broke from prison (by means of an escape rope made of shredded sheets and shoe laces) and started robbing again, increasing the power of his legend. People refused to turn him in. Even _Sports Illustrated_ got into the act, erroneously celebrating him as "one of the best goalies in his country's top pro league." Of course he got caught again, and has stayed in prison so far. Robbing banks is surely wrong, as is boozing at

great book!

The story of Attila Ambrus is unbelievably fascinating. The history of Hungary is bitterly nice, full of historical surprises. To forge the two in one story seems to be a very difficult mission. To do it in a way that is entertaining and teaching in the same time is art. And to do all these by not being Hungarian? That I would say is impossible. Julian Rubinstein proved to be a great artist who managed to do all what seemed impossible. His interpretation is simply perfect. I am saying this as a Hungarian who lived in Hungary when the series of robberies happened and who knows how corrupt the country is (was?), which is probably an unavoidable consequence of transition from planned economy to a market economy. When I first heard from this book, I was particularly curious to find out what a non-Hungarian would think about the stupendous story of the `whiskey robber' but I ordered the book with an immense feeling of discredit. I would have never expected that someone without the cultural background would ever understand those strange Hungarians :-) Having read the book, I have to admit now that Julian Rubinstein was indeed able to do it so well that sometimes I had the feeling that the book was actually written by an English-speaking Hungarian. I think I could never give a compliment bigger and more honest than this. I recommend the book to those that want to know more about what it felt like to be a Hungarian after the transition, to those who are curious to know the story of Attila, to those who love exciting criminal stories and great humour. And if you're Hungarian? Then this book is a must for you! :)

A funny account of horrible times.

The basic elements of the story all point towards tragedy or bathos: corrupt crumbling governments, incompetent drunks, ethnic tension & etc but it still comes out as a very funny tale. The blindness of american foreign/FBI policy is particularly ironic. There's more than enough background to show how wrenching the times were, but told in a light tone that perfectly fits the choice of laughter or going crazy.

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

Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts in Legendary Larceny
Legendary Larceny
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • March 18, 2020

Thirty years ago, two men entered Boston's Isabella Gardner Museum in the wee hours of the morning. They left with thirteen works of art valued at more than $500 million. The case—the largest art robbery in US history—remains unsolved. Here we offer fascinating accounts of the world's most notorious heists.

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