Book Review- Bank Robbers and Russian Mafioso’s

Red Scorpion: The True Story of a Ruthless Russian Mob Boss’s Dramatic Redemption by Rami Kivisalo and Marko Joensuu. Baker Books, $13.99, paperback.


I was intrigued by a new book coming out this month from Baker Books. They sent me an advance copy, and I enjoyed reading it. I always enjoy true life redemption stories about really bad people that come to know God and turn their lives around. Many of the best and most passionate pastors I know were once numbered among the bad guys. These stories are usually a bit too much for a Hallmark movie, which suits me just fine.

The Red Scorpion is about former Russian Mafia Boss Rami Kivisalo. Despite his horrific life, he was actually born to Finnish missionaries in Tanzania. Sometime in his youth, though, he chose the wide road that nearly led to his destruction. Crime and violence became a normal part of his life early on. As a teenager he was taught by a master in snake kung fu. Although snake kung-fu was literally represented by a snake in the animated film Kung-Fu Panda, the art is anything but tame. It is a branch of Five Animal Kung Fu often considered quite deadly. Although in my life experiences I run across many people I would like to take on in a fight for fun, I don’t think I’ll be extending that offer to Kivisalo. With his history and background I don’t know if he could spar for fun without doing some serious damage.

While most kids in their twenties are either still in school or starting careers, Kivisalo had a booming international drug and arms trade and was allied with a major Russian mafia organization.

If you are a fan of international intrigue or action novels, I would suggest you read this book. It reads as interesting as a novel, but it’s all true. As a comparison it made me think of a cross between the films Lord of War starring Nicholas Cage and Eastern Promises with Viggo Mortenson. This one is better but in a different way. In the end, the bad guy wins, but only by becoming a good guy.

 Held Hostage: ASerial Bank Robber’s Road to Redemption by Ken Cooper. Baker Books, $14.99, paperback.

This was another great read sent to me by Baker Books and another story of crime to redemption. This one interested me because of a recent trip I’d made. While in Washington D.C. to receive a business award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we took the time to visit the new Crime and Punishment Museum located in the Chinatown area. There were numerous displays and items from famous and not-so-famous bank robbers. It was amazing how some of them practiced and planned their criminal art. Sometimes it didn’t work out so well. Even those times where it did work out initially, it didn’t seem to pan out in the end.

Cooper’s book details his double life. On the one side he was a loving husband and father and worked at a well-known Christian college. In his other life he was known as the “gentleman bank robber” and completed numerous robberies and heists while traveling under the guise of legitimate business trips. It all came to a crashing end when he was caught and imprisoned under a 99-year sentence. He served four of those years and left to start a second life to redeem the first one.

Held Hostage is an amazing story and a fascinating read. Just like The Red Scorpion reviewed above, this story follows an interesting development from a life of crime to one of redemption where the bad guy becomes the good guy after a radical life change.


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