Adolescent Ren has little at the start of the Good Thief: a stump in place of his hand, a first name but no last, a question mark in place of his past and an uncertain future. Orphaned as an infant, Ren’s only family are the other lost boys at Saint Anthony’s monastery. He seems destined to end up pressed into military service as no families in 19thcentury New England want a son with a physical defect.
Ren’s luck seems to change with the arrival of a man who claims to be his long-lost brother, who’s come to take him away. And away they go into the underbelly of early America where Ren learns the trades of thieving, hucksterism and grave robbery. It’s all in the pursuit of gold, adventure and in breaking through the murk to Ren’s secret origins.
You wouldn’t think a book about such ghoulish commerce would be good to share with children, but it is. Likewise, this book could be tagged as a young adult piece, but it’s greater than that sum and riveting for grownups.
Hannah Tinti has achieved much with her debut novel. Though it’s not great writing, it is quite good, immersive and tight. If you’re thinking that Tinti has a taste for Dickens, you’re on the right track, though her style is easier to digest and is driven by plot more than character.
The road is winding and strange and, like any good melodramatic adventure, encourages the reader to project their own weaknesses and strengths on the characters. Obligatory plot twists are used sparingly and effectively. It’s a terrific, fast-paced nail-biter, best read under the covers by flashlight. Grade: B