The opening chapter of The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell gives us 1920’s New York, and Young Vita Marlowe, aboard an incoming ocean liner. Nodding ‘…at the city in greeting as a boxer greets an opponent before a fight,’ Vita signals that we’re in for a lively read, this combative vibe resurfacing after a traumatic reunion with her recently bereaved grandpa. He has been swindled out of house and home by a ruthless mafioso, and in search of vengeance, a determined Vita prepares to dive into the sordid world of gangsters, speakeasies and heists.
Grandpa’s familial home was once a grand castle, but is now crumbling gently on the banks of the Hudson. Stripped of its luxurious contents, the castle still secretly harbours an emerald heirloom, the sale of which would surely fund a legal bid to reclaim Grandpa’s home. Vita considers that a heist is most definitely called for.
All that’s required is the assistance of a bunch of smart and uniquely gifted kids, and being a Katherine Rundell book, they’re in abundance. A champion pickpocket, a dazzling aerialist, Rundell specialises in extraordinary and free-thinking children, the type to be found dancing on rooftops or navigating the Amazon in her previous novels.
The Good Thieves is a fabulously rich read. I particularly loved the depiction of Prohibition-era New York, the action ricocheting around various Manhattan landmarks. There’s the Dakota building, a place of rouged women and glittering soirées, Grand Central Station with its smell of ‘raincoats and spilt coffee,’ and the fabled Carnegie Hall, which in this instance, has circus performers living upstairs (including a performing horse)
Vita, our admirable heroine, is a planner and a thinker, but she’s up against the Mafia for goodness sake. Men with brilliantined hair and cigar-induced rasps are out to get her.
A twisty plot and some vivid scene-setting makes this another must-read from an author at the top of her game.
The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell is published by Scholastic, 160 pages.
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