Katherine Rundell’s writing is magic. I’ve read three of her books now, and each one is filled with such whimsy and irresistibly charming characters. The Good Thieves is no exception. Set in New York City in the ’20s, an author’s note mentions the real phenomenon of a circus in Carnegie Hall. This circus is the backdrop for the story and adds such a fantastic and enchanting setting, one that is almost too fictional to have been real. From the circus, the story winds around the streets of ’20s New York in all its gilt-edged glory, as Vita and her ragtag group of friends (the perfect little found family you could ever hope for) plan a heist to steal back her grandfather’s precious emerald necklace. This necklace is the key to hiring a lawyer and fighting for her grandfather’s castle, put together piece by piece from England in the Hudson Valley, and snatched by a conniving real estate developer with ties to the mob.
As the mastermind of the plot, Vita is brave and cunning, motivated by her love for her grandfather and her hatred for evil men like Sorrotore, who take advantage of the less fortunate for their own greedy personal gain. She’s the “just-in-case,” due to her ability to throw with expert precision, a skill her grandfather taught her while she was bedridden with polio as a child, a sickness that claimed the full use of one of her feet.
The circus boys, Arkady and Sam, are both virtuosos. Arkady has an uncanny way with animals, able to train the birds of New York and horses and dogs he just met. Sam can fly. His acrobatic skill is unbelievable and one that will help the team get over the high walls of the castle.
The group is rounded out by an unwilling thief, Silk, who desperately wants to live a normal life. She was orphaned and living off the streets, pickpocketing her way into glamorous parties like the ones Sorrotore throws, disguised as a servant, when Vita met her. Initially, she turns Vita down, preferring to work alone and avoid getting caught then with a group of unknown kids. But her lock-pick skill is unparalleled and eventually she joins the group.
What follows is a moving, absorbing tale. Katharine Rundell populates her worlds with hardship and makes every win a battle. Like every good heist story, the plot is kept hidden from the reader and so there are moments that I thought all hope was lost for these good thieves. Even the end seemed like a concession at first, that reality would sink in after a truly remarkable feat (I won’t spoil it, but just know an attempt at the theft of a castle is made and it’s a fantastic few chapters). I so enjoyed the way these characters came together, leaning on one another and lifting one another up. Silk, Sam and Arkady don’t pity Vita but recognize her strength and offer help and steady support. Silk, Vita and Arkady recognize the hardship that Sam faces as a young boy of color, standing around him after he gets looks and sideways glances. Even Silk’s Irish-American status (seen as other in the 1920s) is mentioned and ignored by the other kids, who just recognize each other as friends in a world full of growing foes.
I was enchanted by the story and found myself thinking about these characters long after I was done with the book. I wanted to grasp onto each kid’s fiery spirit and gumption, positivity and grace and use it to battle my own Sorrotores (there are many in 2019 and its hard not to acknowledge the parallels to 2019 in this novel, no matter how sweet and fictional it is). My hope is that other young kids or kids at heart can discover Katherine Rundell and her very important stories. They might just make you believe in magic, at least for a few hundred pages.