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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Think of a Number

Anders Bodelsen

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To purchase Think of a Number

Title: Think of a Number
Author: Anders Bodelsen
Genre: Novel
Written: 1968 (Eng. 1969)
Length: 186 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: Think of a Number - US
Think of a Number - UK
Think of a Number - Canada
Pense à un chiffre - France
Geld zum zweiten Frühstück - Deutschland
Pensa un numero - Italia
Piense en un número - España
  • Danish title: Tænk på et tal
  • Translated by David Hohnen
  • Tænk på et tal has been filmed twice, as Think of a Number, directed by Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt (1969), and as The Silent Partner, directed by Daryl Duke and starring Elliot Gould, Christopher Plummer, and Susannah York (1978)

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Our Assessment:

B : neatly twisted little thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Sunday Times . 22/6/1969 Edmund Crispin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr Bodelsen's characterisation never rises above the necessary minimum and his scene-setting is sketchy in black and white. His plot is plainly and neatly devised, however, permeated with a fetching Nordic tinge of rational mild melancholy." - Edmund Crispin, Sunday Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Think of a Number is a three-act novel. The first part is set in December 1964, and begins with bank employee Flemming Borck tidying up at the end of the day, the last man to leave the branch at which he works. Borck is not only dutiful but also observant, and in cleaning up comes across what appear to be traces of what was meant to be a hold-up note for a bank robbery. As he thinks about it, and as he pays attention in the days that follow, he realizes that the branch was indeed the planned target of a robbery -- and likely still is. He also recognized who seemed to be planning it.
       Borck gets an idea, and hatches a plan. It's Christmas time, and there is a lot of money on hand at the branch -- indeed, the branch manager had complained that they had too much lying around -- and Borck realizes that if there were a bank robbery any money that went missing would be presumed to have been stolen by the robber. So he takes his empty lunchbox while behind the counter and instead of putting the money from the day's transactions in the drawers in which they belong stuffs it in there, anticipating a robbery (and knowing he'll recognize the bank robber if and when he does show up).
       When there's no robbery attempt, Borck simply transfers the money back to where it belongs at the end of the day. The next day, however, the would-be robber shows up, and Borck's plan works like a charm: the bank is held up, the robber escapes with a pathetically small pile of money, and Borck has a lunchbox stuffed full of cash, neatly hidden in his briefcase. The robber gets away -- Borck makes sure he's well out the door before hitting the alarm -- and Borck walks out of the bank, after all the fuss with the police, with a bag of cash: "Don't forget your briefcase", the detectives who had questioned him even helpfully remind him.
       Borck also almost immediately returns to the bank, when no one is there. The best place to hide the money, he figures, is there: he opens a safety deposit box account in a false name, stows the money there, and pockets the key. Obviously, he can't touch it for a while; he has to be careful spending the money -- a change of lifestyle would be suspicious -- but otherwise he thinks his plan is pretty foolproof.
       It turns out that it's not nearly that simple. Someone knows he has the money, after all -- the thwarted bank robber, who realizes that the amount reported stolen does not nearly tally with the pittance he got away with, and that Borck was the only one who could have gotten his hands on the missing money. The bank robber is determined, and he quickly gets on Borck's case. First he gains entry to Borck's apartment -- but the money obviously isn't there. Then he gets in touch with Borck, offering a split of the spoils -- and gets increasingly menacing when Borck isn't inclined to go along: "You can't shake me off and you can't go to the police", the robber insists.
       But Borck is pretty crafty too, and manages to turn the tables sufficiently to seemingly escape the uncomfortably tightening noose. And it soon seems he's once again gotten off scot-free.
       The second part of the novel jumps ahead a few months, to February 1965. Borck's father has passed away -- sad, but not unexpected -- but otherwise Borck is sitting pretty. At his father's funeral service he meets an attractive young woman, Jette, who says she worked at the nursing home and knew Borck's father. Borck is no fool -- it seems -- and, like the reader, suspicious. Rightly so: her name isn't Jette (it's Alice), and she never worked at the nursing home. But with a different problem having cropped up in his grand plan he suddenly finds that he needs an accomplice -- and there are some good reasons why Jette/Alice fits the bill for that role.
       Still, as he makes his move, he wonders: "Had he made a mistake ?" -- indeed: "had he now misjudged this girl, Jette, too ? and hadn't he, as a matter of fact, misjudged the whole situation ?"
       The dance between the two is good fun: each wants something from the other, and each can see through the other's lies. But they're both willing to put their cards on the table, understanding that they can mutually benefit by acting together. So they do. And it works. So it seems.
       The final act then jumps ahead to September 1967. Up to that point the narrative had focused entirely on Borck, but now it starts with a police officer, Grau, following a man -- the bank robber, whom Grau imagines can lead him to the still-missing cash from that original bank robbery. Grau is surprised to find the bank robber is, in fact, tailing someone else -- and even more surprised to find that person to be Borck. It's less a chase than a slow-motion game, but things speed up when Borck, followed by the bank robber, followed by Grau head off to Tunisia. Sitting in the plane, Grau amusingly wonders whether he, too, is being followed ...:

Strictly speaking, there could always be another person in the chain, another false bottom to the box, another subtler meaning in the joke.
       Naturally, paths collide here -- with Alice thrown in for good measure of course -- with each one thinking they're on the right track. Very little goes as planned, but there's some decent ad hoc improvisation. But, yes, given the competing interests, not everyone can walk away from this happy. Or walk away at all .....
       Think of a Number is a fairly amusing variation on overlapping best-laid-schemes and how they go astray, with Bodelsen offering some nice and quite unexpected twists. The very different characters are nicely pitted against each other, and their different personalities are particularly well put to use, including largely blank-slate-seeming Borck -- "You never really open up, do you ? Does anybody actually know you ?" a colleague wonders.
       The workplace scenes, at the bank, and the secondary cast of characters there also make for a good foundation; Think of a Number moves along fairly simply and straightforwardly much of the time -- basically, practically -- but its quirks and oddities keep the narrative nicely on edge, too. There is rather much here that is far-fetched, especially in the novel's repeated twists, but, if not exactly plausible, it's clever enough to quite fully satisfy -- including in its dark resolution. Good fun, and a solid little thriller.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 August 2020

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Think of a Number: Reviews: Tænk på et tal - the films: Other books by Anders Bodelsen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Anders Bodelsen lived 1937 to 2021.

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