Charlie Howard writes novels about a thief. He also happens to be one. When an American approaches him to steal two monkey figurines for a nice fat fee he declines. But then curiosity gets the better of him and he undertakes the job. When he goes to deliver the haul, however, the American is dead and it seems he is the prime suspect. Several people want to locate the seemingly worthless figurines and they’re prepared to do whatever it takes to get their hands on them. Which makes them also very attractive to Charlie, who wants to both clear his name and clean up.
The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam is all about the plot. It’s a kind of screwball crime caper with thefts, double crosses, mistaken identities, confidence tricks, shifting alliances and the obligatory femme fatale. In particular, I thought the ‘all the characters in a room’ denouncement was very nicely delivered. Howard being a writer allows for a plot within a plot, and also to act as a kind of commentator on the case through his telephone discussions with his agent. The book is written in a light and witty style and fairly zips along. That zip, however, leads to pretty thin characterisation. Even Howard is fairly thinly drawn, with only a very modest back story, and it’s difficult to draw other conclusions about him other than he’s a thief with a conscience. In some ways that doesn’t matter; as noted, this is all about the plot, which is clever, flips, twists and turns as a good caper should.