Monday, March 8, 2010

Review of The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris by Chris Ewan (Pocket Books, 2008)

Charlie Howard is a thief turned crime novelist. After a reading at a Paris bookshop, and a little too drunk to exercise good judgement, he is persuaded to demonstrate his lock-picking abilities by breaking into the apartment of a young man. The next day his fence asks him to break into the same apartment to steal a painting by a little known artist. Again ignoring the warning bells ringing in his mind he agrees to do the job, but when he breaks in the painting has already been stolen. Worst still when he returns home the apartment’s real owner is dead in his living room. Someone is trying to frame him for the burglary, and troublingly several parties are after the painting leaving Charlie stuck in the middle trying to find a way to safety. Then to add to his woes his agent, Victoria, decides that now is a good time to meet the author she’s only ever spoken to on the phone.

I’m not a great fan of first person stories with a largely descriptive style, preferring a third person narrative driven by dialogue and action. I guess I like to get a sense of the characters through how they act and behave rather than the internal ‘dialogue in their head’. The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris had then a little bit of an uphill battle to win me over. The real strength of the book is its premise (a crime author who is a criminal whose exploits parallel those of his novels), its plotting, which is well crafted and clever, and its pacing, with the story jaunting along at a nice trot (if it had been written in the third person and dropped the introspection/description it would have zipped along like grease lightening, which is how I tend to like caper novels). Where the story is probably a little weak is with respect to characterisation. Despite the first person perspective I never really got a sense of the emotional and psychological make-up of Charlie – what made him tick – and the other characters tended to be thin and underdeveloped. I think this was partly because no character, including Charlie, had a backstory; the reader never learns anything about their history or family, just their role in the caper being told. I’m aware that this probably doesn’t sound as positive as it might, so I should make it clear that The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris did win me over, mainly due to its astute plotting, and I intend to read the first book in the series. Other reviews can be found at: It's a Crime, Random Jottings, Innocent Bystander,


Anonymous said...

Rob - Thanks for this fine review. It does, indeed, have a fascinating premise, and I'm glad that it won you over despite the first-person narrative. In general, I like third-person narratives, too (although there are some authors whose work I very much like who use first person and do it quite well).

pattinase (abbott) said...

Now you tell me. I just changed my whole novel to first person!

Rob Kitchin said...

Patti, I'm fine with first person as long as it's action and dialogue driven. It's introspection and description that I find tiresome. Tell me what you do and say and I'll figure you out; I don't need you to self-analyze yourself for me to understand you. As a reader, I need things to happen!