A review of Heist Society (Heist Society #1), by Ally Carter

READ OCTOBER 2013

ONLINE PLOT SUMMARY: “When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her on a trip to the Louvre…to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her Uncle Eddie traveled to Austria…to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she planned a con of her own—scamming her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. Unfortunately, leaving “the life” for a normal life proves harder than she’d expected.

Soon, Kat’s friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring Kat back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has a good reason: a powerful mobster has been robbed of his priceless art collection and wants to retrieve it. Only a master thief could have pulled this job, and Kat’s father isn’t just on the suspect list, he is the list. Caught between Interpol and a far more deadly enemy, Kat’s dad needs her help.

For Kat, there is only one solution: track down the paintings and steal them back. So what if it’s a spectacularly impossible job? She’s got two weeks, a teenage crew, and hopefully just enough talent to pull off the biggest heist in her family’s history–and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way. ”

MY REVIEW: A few years ago, when I’d just gotten my Kindle, I was reading a lot of YA paranormal indie novel. The YA aspect is, I imagine, why the amazonians kept throwing out Heist Society as a recommendation. Well, I hadn’t read any YA in a long time, and happened to remember that rec. My local library had it, so, I figured, why not? I’m happy to say it was a good choice.

Not having read a ton of YA literature, and being in the age bracket where most YA readers would call me “Gramps” or worse, I’m not 100% sure how to approach a review of Heist Society. My instincts, though, say that it should be judged by the same standards by which one judges any other book: Mechanical aspects (grammar, etc.), plot, characters, credibility…feel free to add your own.

There’s absolutely nothing at all wrong here from a mechanical aspect. Plenty of writers who aim at adult audiences fall considerably below the standard Carter sets here. The writing is crisp and in no way does the author seem to be writing “down” to a younger audience.

The plot is well constructed and more than interesting enough to keep you turning pages. Yes, it does require a healthy dollop of “willing suspension of disbelief,” given that the heroine is a 15 year-old master thief. Carter overcomes that objection by making everything else solidly grounded in fact (within the terms of the novel) and by Kat’s smooth, down-to-earth narrative voice which suggests “This may not be the sort of thing that happens in your world, but it is in mine.” A scenario like this could become far too over-the-top in a hurry, and the characters become comic book-like. Carter does a great job avoiding these pitfalls, and making the (frankly) unbelievable quite credible and realistic.

The principal characters are quite likable, and pretty well fleshed-out. That sketching out is accomplished through their actions and words, not in dry descriptions; Carter definitely does a good job showing rather than telling. Kat’s wry humor adds a great deal to her appeal. Her loyalty to her dad is admirable; although she has been trying to break from the family “business”, she puts that aside because her father needs her. Her glamorous cousin, Gabrielle forms a nice, flashy contrast to Kat’s more mundane character. Hale, her (sort of) romantic interest, is a solid BFF (at least at this point in the series.) Simon is the inevitable computer geek. I’ve seen some objections that the characters seem older than their specified ages. Seems to me, if one accepts their lifestyle, then it’s not to far a reach that they’ve grown up a little faster than the average teen.

I’ve already touched on issues of credibility, but it’s worth mentioning again: This would be an easy book to let get out of hand as far is realism is concerned. After all, we have a bunch of mid-teens planning to rob the most secure museum in the world. However, Carter is able to make things seem normal, even if, by our standards, they aren’t. The matter-of-fact narrative style and the avoidance of truly outlandish, Bond-like scenes help keep the unlikely plot within the realm of the plausible.

If there’s one short-coming, it’s that the villain is just not nasty enough. He seems more like a cantakerous uncle who just happens to be a gangster type, than someone as thoroughly evil Hale describes. I just can’t take his threats against Kat’s dad seriously. It’s possible Carter softened his character to make it more palatable to prospective tween and early teen readers. Pshaw! The Internet and video games have made that age-group far more worldly and accepting of such things than some of us were at thirty. So, a bad guy with a lot more bite would have added a lot.

In short, I can’t find much of anything to quibble with in Heist Society. The majority of my reading is in adult mysteries (everything from Sara Paretsky to J.M. Redmann), hard science-fiction (Melissa Scott, Joanna Russ, James M. Tiptree, Jr,, Nicola Griffith), and urban fantasy (Kim Harrison, Jes Battis, Devon Monk, Seanan McGuire). As a piece of genre fiction aimed at a different market, I’d compare Carter’s book favorably with those as exemplars of their own genres. More than anything, Heist Society is a quick, fun, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable read. I’m pretty sure that’s just what Carter intended, and, judging it in those terms, I find it very successful. There’s absolutely no reason that it can’t be appreciated by any reader, no matter his or her age bracket.

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