A Good Thief in a Bad Place?

I picked up The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan after seeing it listed on a “What Our Editors are Reading on the Subway” kind of list that seems to be in abundance at this time of year. The title intrigued me, so I looked it up on my public library’s iPhone app an reserved a copy. Upon picking it up, I thought for sure it would be a quick read. Not quite. Who would have thought a 238 page book would take SO LONG to read?

The Good Thief’s Guide… is the story of Charlie Howard, a Brit in Amsterdam, and is told in first person. See, Charlie is a mystery author who happens to be a thief who writes about a thief who solves crimes. With me so far? As convoluted as that might sound I was still enthusiastic. After all, so many mystery series now have a gimmick. Rare book dealers, chefs, and even Jane Austen are solving crimes these days- why not a “good thief”? So, I jumped in.

Within the first few pages, Charlie is approached by an American who knows about his double life as a thief and offers him a job. The American wants him to steal two Wise Monkey figurines from two separate residences, a quick score essentially already planned for our thief. After deliberation, Charlie decides to take the commission. Needless to say, things do not go exactly as planned.

All of this action takes place in the first couple pages… and that was a problem. Ewan’s pace felt like a sprinter trying to run the distance. Secondary characters are introduced but not really filled out. Towards the end, there are several revelations that add dimension, but feel rushed. Most readers will figure out several clues and elements of the crime chapters before Charlie.

Because the narration is told through Charlie, the reader spends a good deal of story in his thoughts, which is good and bad in turn. Charlie is wry and has a lot of charm and wit. Ewan sometimes forgets that though and bogs his protagonist down with too many thoughts. There are lots of descriptions, but they are told more as walking tour directions than words that paint a scene. It felt like a wasted opportunity to highlight the titular city by showing it through the eyes of a foreigner. The meandering thoughts and lack of context caused me to put the book down more often than I normally would.

But… (My mother calls it “the infamous but”)

While the pacing seemed off and there were issues with certain style points, I have to admit, I would read another book in the series. A book writing thief still intrigues me. This was Ewen’s first and there were definitely hints of promise in the characters. Charlie and his editor, Victoria, have a lot of potential to be fleshed out and made into proper series anchors. The criminal elements in this book also offer hope that The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris and the subsequent novels in the series will continue to show the world of a “good” criminal in a way that other novels only do in passing.

Does the premise of The Good Thief’s Guide series appeal to you? Have you read beyond the first book?


2 responses to “A Good Thief in a Bad Place?

  1. Love this! I’ve heard OF this book, but I didn’t know the premise. Even though it may have been a bit uneven, it still sounds like something I’d like. Great review (and I’m also a fan of the “infamous but”).

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