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.
There’s something completely irresistible about a great heist film. I have very fond memories of staying up late on Saturdays with my father to watch “Saturday Night at the Movies” with Elwy Yost, the iconic movie host on TVOntario. There would be a double feature of two Hollywood classics, broken at the intermission by an equally absorbing interview with someone related to the film. It was there, on the couch of my living room that I was first introduced to the classic three-act heist movies – the original Ocean’s Eleven, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Italian Job (with Minis!), Raffles and even It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and so many others. As a result, there’s a spot in my heart for a great heist, but I’m equally strict on it being done right. Ally Carter’s first book in the Heist Society series hits every right note, and is a fabulous modern classic with a twist.
We are introduced to Katarina (Kat) Bishop, a seemingly ordinary girl at boarding school. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that she is no normal teen. After being (wrongly) expelled for events she apparently committed, we realize that Kat is part of an extended family of thieves – very good thieves – and that she has chosen to walk away from that life in search of something more “normal”. Her best friend (and perhaps something more) W.W. Hale breaks her out because her father needs her help. Someone has stolen five priceless paintings from Arturo Taccone, a disturbingly calm yet evil mobster, and Taccone is convinced Kat’s father is responsible. Kat quickly realizes that the only way to save her father is to find the paintings herself, and she ‘assembles the team’ in order to pull off the biggest heist of her career. Plans are further complicated when Kat discovers that the real thief was Visily Romani, a shadowy figure mentioned throughout thieving history, and especially known for stealing the impossible and for recovering pieces taken by the Nazi’s. No one knows who Visily might be, and Kat must avoid all the obstacles in order to complete her heist.
My biggest fear going into this series would be that the history of thieving and the heist itself might be trivialized beside the common contemporary teen tropes. I have never been so happy to be wrong! Kat’s teen angst isn’t about what to wear to school, but how she can balance her love of her family with her desire to walk away from the family business. We see early on that her decisions have hurt her family, and she has some apologizing to do in a completely unconventional manner before she can earn back their trust. While Kat is certainly not your usual teen heroine, Hale, Gabrielle and the others all manage to go against the grain to be individuals in their own right. You realize that everyone has a back story, and you are eager to learn more. Throughout, Carter manages to find a deft balance between the world of the con and a quirky, funny, dysfunctional con family that takes care of its own. While everyone may not be related by blood, they are connected by the jobs they pull and the relationships they have built. It’s this connection that makes Kat’s struggle for independence so heartfelt, as you can completely understand her conflict about wanting to walk away from her life of crime, while not wanting to leave her family for anything.
Oh, the romance? Yep … it’s pretty great. Hale and Kat have an almost classic “will they/won’t they” pull with each other – very Tracy and Hepburn (Google them if you don’t know ’em – and behold true chemistry). It will be fun to watch their relationship develop, as they are such close friends yet there is such potential for so much more. Keep in mind, however, that they are still teens; while they are both mature beyond their years, they are still awkward teenagers with the same internal conflicts and insecurities as any other. I love that about them, and think that it grounds them and makes the two of them – and the others – so relatable.
I read this book ages ago when it first came out, but have to say that this re-read was much more fun. Knowing that there were two more books to follow, I could savour every page, and I encourage everyone to pick up this delicious treat for themselves.
Heist Society was purchased by me for review in anticipation of reviewing the third book in the series. It is published by Hyperion (Hachette Canada), and is available for purchase at Indigo, Amazon and your friendly independent bookstore. ISBN: 9781423116394, 287 pages.