"When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her 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.Heist Society by Ally Carter
Soon, Kat's friend and former co-conspirator, Hale, appears out of nowhere to bring her back into the world she tried so hard to escape. But he has good reason: a powerful mobster's art collection has been stolen, and he wants it returned. 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 (very crooked) history—and, with any luck, steal her life back along the way."
The characters of Heist Society are endearing, and really the stars of the show; Kat and Hale particularly stood out for me. Kat's confident in her thieving (to the point of recklessness at times) and yet vulnerable about her future and her role in her family. She's arguably mature in some instances and not so mature in others — in other words, she's just like any teen despite her unusual circumstances. She's still just trying to figure out what she wants in life. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of her relationship with her dad, and her history with the other characters, but perhaps we will get a few more glimpses of that in the sequel.
Hale I liked from the very first scene he steps into. As bold as Kat, he radiates self-confidence. The teasing between them is enjoyable, and yet when the going gets tough, Hale sticks by her and is supportive but not domineering. Sure, he is upset with her when she puts herself at risk (which, let's face it, she does more than once), but it's only because it's obvious he cares about her and feels protective. Kat's response to Hale at times is also illustrative of the guardedness of her personality, which comes from years of thinking and working like a con artist, used to showing only a poker face...yet their relationship takes a gratifying turn towards the end that gives us hope for Kat. I'd love to hear more about how they met and their past (again, hopefully in book 2!)
The more minor characters weren't as well fleshed-out. Simon as the requisite computer geek — very handy when it comes to pulling off a heist — doesn't break out of the mould of stereotype, and I found Nick to be pretty flat (and his interactions with Kat lacking spark) most of the way through. However, I liked the dynamic of the group as a whole. Kat's companions together end up feeling kind of like a quirky family that you'd have fun hanging out with. They've forged a strong bond that might well test the well-known saying "no honour among thieves." I did wish there was more physical description of each character, as I had trouble visualizing some of them.
I must say that I didn't find the villainous characters very intimidating. The most obvious one chats with Kat several times and makes some threats, but they all turn out to be pretty idle. His actions aren't always the most believable, either (although really, you have to take this book as a whole with more than a few grains of salt.) He did have the whole Mafia vibe going on, though.
Kudos to Ally Carter for giving us a contemporary YA read that a) isn't set in a high school, and b) doesn't revolve strictly around a romance. Something refreshingly different!
Compared to other mysteries, I did find this one to be rather slow-moving most of the way through. A lot of it is just gathering information that the teens use to formulate their plans, and I didn't find myself that engaged in the actual mystery itself of the culprit behind the original theft. And perhaps I just don't have the mind of a thief, but I struggled sometimes with anticipating the group's next step or figuring out exactly what they were doing. The way it's described is often a little vague — probably to keep things mysterious (or maybe to make the reader work harder?) but I ended up confused and re-reading some parts to see if I could understand what was happening. I think some more description of the setting would have helped me picture it better. However, I enjoyed the twists throughout that kept things fresh, and the clever ways the characters were sometimes able to fool unsuspecting people.
Towards the end, however, as the "heist society" starts setting up for their big moment, the pace does pick up and I found myself more interested in how they were going to pull everything off. I really enjoyed the big climactic scenes, although the resolution with the villain seemed wrapped up far too neatly and conveniently to be realistic. I didn't believe the villain would be stupid enough to fall for the trick that he does. (Spoilery details, highlight to read: come on, infamous Arturo Taccone just waltzing into an empty apartment to pick up the art pieces, without thinking twice about who's sending him there? He may be over-confident but he's not *that* slow-witted, surely. Especially considering he knows Interpol has been tracking Kat's dad, and the apartment is right next to the art gallery...)
I did wish we could see a bit more of the characters' lives that weren't related to thievery. Everything in the book is focused on the case at hand, so there's never really a break from all the planning to see how they spend their free time. In that way, it does have quite a narrow focus, although given they were on a deadline I understand that they couldn't very well kick back their heels and relax. We get glimpses of it, but I'd like to see more of who Kat is outside of "Kat the thief."
The author slides into the thief mindset with great ease in Heist Society. Uncannily so, in fact — does Ally Carter moonlight as a con artist, by any chance? It was neat seeing events analyzed from that perspective, although it did sometimes feel a bit repetitive, as Kat and the others never snap out of this mindset they've been raised with.
I also think the quality of the writing is just excellent. It's written in third-person omniscient, which has to be one of my least favourite perspectives. It's difficult to pull off well, but Carter does just that. She gets us to care about the characters while still providing that distanced perspective that lends itself well to the mystery genre. Indeed, it feels almost like she slips into third-person attached POV sometimes for Kat, since we get to know the heroine quite well.
That said, I did feel like the POV and writing style contributed to the slower pacing for me. Many of the chapters start off in a descriptive, distant, often ambiguous sort of way — the reader isn't always sure who is being discussed or what their importance is, and then it becomes clearer as the chapter goes on. In contrast, the end of the chapter often ended with a mini-cliffhanger or surprise revelation. Then the next chapter would start off slow again, and I felt like the momentum just built up had been lost. I also noticed the chapters would sometimes jump forward in time a bit (rather than picking up right where they'd left off), and I'd have to try to orient myself and figure out what was going on. I eventually got a bit more used to this pattern as the book continued in this way, but I'd still have to push a little bit through the first parts of each chapter until it got more exciting.
Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars. A clever, innovative premise and delightful characters, but I had a few issues with the plot and pacing.
Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the publisher.