"The Amateurs" (Dutton, 380 pages, $25.95), by Marcus Sakey: Life is not turning out the way the four friends imagined in Marcus Sakey's "The Amateurs."

Mitch tells himself the doorman job is temporary — that he'll go back to college one day. But now that he's passed 30, it's hard to keep believing the lie.

Ian's one big score as a securities trader is a distant memory, and he's anesthetizing his feelings of failure with cocaine.

Alex quit school after his wife got pregnant and took a job as a bartender to support his family. But she got tired of being married to a bartender and has left him for a doctor.

Jenn expected life to be an adventure, but as a travel agent she spends her days arranging adventures for other people.

The four found each other in the big, anonymous city and have been getting together once a week for several years at the bar Alex tends. There, they laugh when they can and commiserate when they must.

They are "playing the game of life, but unwilling to actually make a move, put their chips on the table," Sakey writes.

The robbery begins as a pipe dream. What if they could steal the big stack of cash Alex's boss, Johnny Love, keeps in his office safe? The only people who seem to be making it in the Madoff era, the friends tell themselves, are those who simply take what they want.

They begin scheming, imagining how it could be done, making a game of it at first. But the more they talk about it, the more possible it seems, until finally they find themselves walking into the bar with loaded guns.

Like Peter Blauner, author of such fine crime novels as "Slow Motion Riot" and "The Last Good Day," Sakey puts ordinary people in extraordinary situations. And like Blauner, he's a stylish writer who excels at creating characters so real that they walk right off the page and into your life.

The robbery goes bad right from the start. Someone gets killed. The cops are asking them questions. And some very bad people want their money back. The suspense will keep you flipping pages straight to the surprising conclusion, when the four friends have to decide how far they are willing to go to save themselves, and what they are willing to sacrifice to save their friends.