I’m going to be doing something a little different. Rather than look at one book, I’m going to be reviewing an entire series. Namely, The Good Thief’s Guide series by Chris Ewan!
Charlie Howard is a crime author and experienced thief. As he travels the world, finding new inspiration for his novels, he becomes wrapped up in a number of criminal capers. From gangsters to the government, Charlie’s thieving antics land him, and his literary agent Victoria, in a world of daring and dangerous adventures.
Now, because I am reviewing an entire series in one go, I will not be doing individual book summaries. If you want to know more about the plot of each book, feel free to click the link to the amazon page. Now, with that said, onto the reviews!
The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam
I actually missed the first book in the series when I originally picked it up. And I have to say, going back to it after reading the sequel was an odd experience. Since it’s the first book in the series, it takes its time establishing Charlie Howard’s double life.
Not too much, mind you. Just enough to let the reader get to know Charlie, before it dives into the mystery.
Similarly Victoria, though aware of his criminal shenanigans, is more like the Jim Gordon to his Batman – on the sidelines, providing guidance over the phone – rather than the companion we see later in the series.
Since this is Charlie’s first adventure, I have to say that I really enjoyed the mystery. Three monkeys at the centre of heist, a femme fatale, a dead body: it hits all the right notes if you’re a fan of exciting, albeit a little cheesy, crime like myself. And as always, the setting is wonderfully described, blending the historic landmarks of Amsterdam with its more infamous, debauched side.
Yet, I feel like the voice of Charlie Howard hasn’t quite come into its own in this book. He’s as smarmy as always, and definitely not unlikeable. But he comes across oddly cynical and unwilling, less of the charming trickster we see in the later books. In addition, I feel like the writing itself could have been sharper.
As I read, I found numerous sentences that went on for too long, that over exposite about the mystery or Charlie’s thoughts. And, for a fast paced novel, extended sentence length can sometimes knock the pace down a peg. I don’t know if this is just the effects of reading the second book first, but I definitely felt that, while the story is solid, the book may have benefited with a bit of tightening.
Nonetheless, it’s a solid introduction to the series as a whole, the mystery is great, and it sets up the groundwork for our crime writing thief. Personally, I’m glad that I started with Paris as the introduction to the series – but, I am also glad to have read this book. I recommend it, perhaps thinking of it like a prequel to the exciting adventures to come.
The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris
(I wrote a full review on this book here. But, long story short, it’s probably my second favourite in the series. Why? Click the link and find out!)
The Good Thief’s Guide to Vegas
So, we’ve had mysterious monkeys and hidden secrets in Paris – dead bodies and murder and the blame falling on Charlie’s shoulders. Now, he’s in Vegas, with its bright lights and desert heat and Victoria at his side. What could he get up to this time?
A missing magician.
No murder accusations. No suspicious clients, or a thievery job gone wrong. His and Victoria’s lives are threatened, sure, but that’s par for the course at this point.
Now, don’t misunderstand. The book is still written well. I love the contrast Ewan creates between the nightlife and daylight of Vegas, as well as the variations between casinos. High chandeliers and champagne, or tacky gambling tables and beer – the clashing between environments really sucks you in.
Charlie’s character is still enjoyable to follow, especially as he tries to figure out the mystery and impress Victoria. And Victoria is fantastic in this book. We learn more about her past, as well as watch her bounce off Charlie’s reckless behaviour with pragmatism, humour and charm. She really comes into her own in this book, changing from a friend to protect, to a friend Charlie can rely on.
But at the end of the day, the heart of a crime novel is its mystery. And while the mystery is a perplexing one, the final solution felt convoluted. Rather than having an “a-ha!” moment, I closed the book thinking “Wait. Whaaat?” Which I think is the last thing any crime author wants.
In addition, I felt that the stakes weren’t all that high in this book – there was no threat to Charlie being found out as a thief, no dead body turning up in his living room, no cops prowling on his tail. If he doesn’t find the magician, he and Victoria are killed: in real life, I’m sure this would be terrible, but after everything Charlie has been through – framed, manipulated, exploited, blackmailed – a death threat felt like a cold motivation.
If Amsterdam was the prequel, Vegas felt like the filler episode. It’s fun to read, we learn more about the characters, we see them clashing heads – but, ultimately, we find ourselves wanting the next daring adventure. Speaking of…
The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice
This book wastes no time to get started. Charlie’s prized possession is robbed on page one, and the action only builds up from there. Blackmail, stalkers, mysterious government officials – this book has a fast pace, a winding plot, and is a definite improvement to the previous book.
Charlie himself faces a new conflict to. He’s trying to become more focused on writing his book, to very little success. His dual nature starts to get the best of him. Not only does this make the character more engaging to read, but also demonstrates the effects of the previous books. There’s the internal conflict, of Charlie trying to stop his thievery, and the external conflict of being strongarmed into stealing. Both make for a fantastically gripping story.
Ironically, I was not absorbed into the setting so much this time. Perhaps it’s because I have personally visited Venice before. While the setting is definitely well done, and serves as the backdrop to the mystery, I feel like there could have been more sensory description.
But either way, Venice is a solid entry in The Good Thief’s Guide series.
The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin
If Vegas’ stakes weren’t high enough, then The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin takes its stakes, sets them on fire, climbs up a skyscraper and waves them like a flag.
The fifth and final book in the series has a different tone to the others. Not only does it feel darker, but right from the start the book feels intense. It begins with a murder, right before Charlie’s eyes, then moves into conspiracy and government secrets and four heists going wrong.
There are a lot of characters in this book – a lot of pieces of the puzzle to juggle – but not once did I get confused as to who was who, and who wanted what. On the contrary: it made the whole book seem larger, the mystery more gripping, to know so many people surrounded it.
Out of all the books in the series, this is the one that had me on the edge of my seat, thinking how the bloody hell Charlie was going to get out of this one.
And speaking of Charlie, this book doesn’t shy away from challenging our loveable protagonist. His wit won’t always get him out of the mess he’s in, his charm only goes so far, as do his thievery skills.
Not only this, but Victoria is also challenged, circumstances forcing her to reconsider her connection to Charlie, to think about just what she is doing by enabling his crimes. It’s nice to finally see the status quo tremble between the two – it makes the book that much more engaging, and their relationship that much more realistic.
The only thing I am sad about is that this is the last book in the series! Especially after that ending! While I recommend reading Venice and Paris before this one – as it will help put some events of the plot into context – I can say that, by far and away, The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin is my favourite in The Good Thief’s Guide series.