Book Review: Heist Society, by Ally Carter

July 27, 2011 at 3:54 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Kat Bishop just wants a normal life. School, homework, set menus in the cafeteria. Predictability. Predictability is a little hard to come by when you’ve been raised in a masterclass high-end family of thieves, but Kat’s walked away from all of it and stolen a life as a normal student at a boarding school. Until her father’s life is endangered by a mob boss convinced Bobby Bishop stole several very important paintings from him. Then, with nothing but a teenage crew and some skills that have gone more rusty than she’d like to admit, Kat’s going to have to do the impossible. Preferably with style.

Imagine every good movie about high end art thieves you’ve ever seen, every impossible stunt, every mastermind plan…hell, every episode of MacGyver…add in a masterful blend of humor, self-consciousness, and ridiculosity, and then put it all in the hands of a group of teenagers. That’s Heist Society.

And it’s brilliant.

Comparisons between an author’s different series are somewhat inevitable, but despite some running gags (compare the hilarious names and prop requirements of the stunts Cammie’s crew and Kat’s crew each suggest, discard, or pull off) this book stands strong against such easy assumptions. Cammie has been studying all her life for the chance to get out there and do things; Kat’s been doing things all her life and craves the chance to stay in and study. They have different backgrounds, different outlooks, different goals, and very VERY different views on people. While who to trust is a strong element of both series, the stakes play out along separate roads and twist the stories into different directions.

This book is an incomparable use of voice and style. The narration swivels across characters at their different tasks, bystanders, even hypotheticals- the “someone would have seen” can be SO hard to use, even harder to use well, but it works here. It really puts you right into the feel of everything. Appearances can be very deceptive, something Kat and her crew use with precision, and what we don’t see and what we see incorrectly are as important as what we do or think we see. There’s also a high degree of risk- there’s really no such thing as a “safe” plan for these people.

Each of the characters are distinct, which can be hard to do in an ensemble cast. They each had distinct talents and comfort zones, each have something specific to bring to the table, but they’re also complex people with the ability to surprise Kat- not to mention their opponents. Gabrielle is amazing. I didn’t want to like her at all because she comes off as such a snot, but there’s a lot more to her than she’s let anyone realize- that she lets Kat and the others see even a bit of that shows how important they are to her. Simon and the Bagshaw brothers aren’t simply lumped together as “the boys”, which can be tempting.

And oh, Hale. W.W. Hale the Fifth (Kat’s been trying for YEARS to figure out what the W’s stand for) is rich boy turned bad boy, more the fun of it than any actual need to steal, but this bad boy has a lot more than art and jewels on his mind. Like probably every other female who’s read this book, I totally fell for Hale, mostly because beneath a startlingly thin layer of charm and moneyed boredom, there’s a deep well of vulnerability. (AND- he has Superman pajamas. I’m sorry, but amazingly HOT rich boy with charm, loyalty, a talent for thievery, AND Superman jammies? Droolworthy!)

Kat is, I think, the most interesting character Carter’s written yet. She’s short-statured and looks even younger than she is (which can go either way in any given situation), she desperately wants to be normal, and yet takes pride in the skills she’s acquired, even if she’d really rather not use them. She’s clever and resourceful, capable of taking some appalling risks, but she also brings in other opinions. She’s simultaneously confident and self-conscious, one of the few ways in which she really comes off as a normal teenager. And yet…the aging effect of her experiences never makes her seem less of a teenager- just less of a ‘normal’ one. The way she looks at things, the ways she grows, are very much a product of her age and background. Most importantly, there’s something uniquely teenager about the ability to have everyone else telling you no and deciding to do it anyway.

This book moves quickly, jumping all over the world in a matter of days, and one of the things I love is just how much work goes into pulling off each and every one of the elaborate heists. Nothing gets to be simple. It’s not as easy as proving to the bad guy that Kat’s dad didn’t steal them, but is instead an ever-increasing array of formidable and at times dangerous tasks that require a vast spread of talents, expertise, and resources.

Reading this book made me desperately wish I owned Cary Grant and Grace Kelly’s To Catch a Thief, which I’m pretty sure had to be on the research list. The pages are filled with humor and wistfulness, action and intelligence, loyalty and betrayal, and above all, inimitable characters that step out of the words and sit beside you to comment on everything.

Heist Society, by Ally Carter, out in stores and joined by its sequel, Uncommon Criminals (review to follow eventually)

Until next time~
Cheers!

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3 Comments

  1. msbooklover said,

    This a good review. way better than mine but then again i’m just starting. please check out my blog and tell me what you think. if you like what you see please follow me and i’ll do the same! thanks!

  2. Sydney lewis said,

    I HAVE A QUESTION FOR YOU. SO, IF YOU HAD TO THINK OF SIX THINGS THAT KAT WOULD HAVE IN A MEMORY BOX FROM HER ADVENTRES…….WHAT WOULD THEY BE?
    THANKS!

    • dothutchison said,

      You know, this sounds suspiciously like a homework assignment…
      But if I had to guess? Very subtle things. Ticket stubs or postcards are too obvious a trail to where she’s been, and a good thief never leaves behind more clues than she has to. So little things, like a strip of fabric that used to belong to the skirt Gabrielle shortened for her; a plain business card with a certain name of it; a running list of all her guesses for Hale’s name. Things like that, that can’t be directly tied to any one heist. Good thieves also have good memories, so she could certainly pull from things that seem ordinary to anyone else.

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