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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Uncommon Criminals, by Ally Carter

July 9th, 2011 at 16:24

There are two very important points about heist stories which are reiterated throughout this second volume of the ‘Heist Society’ series. Firstly, heist stories are about family, usually the kind of family which is assembled from a group of misfits rather than actual blood relatives. This allows them to be stories about love and trust, even as the protagonists themselves are deeply untrustworthy. Secondly, heist stories are usually all about the boys.

What I really like about Carter’s books, apart from her being the author of some of the best fun, escapist (and yet smart) YA stories since Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries, is that she takes stories that are normally all about men, and gives them to girls instead. The Gallagher Girls took the world of James Bond, the Bourne Identity, etc. and asked the question, where would those spies send their daughters to school? The Heist Society series likewise asks about the youngest generation of a traditionally male occupation, but this time it’s the con men, jewel thieves and catburglars whose kids are having their own adventures.

From The Italian Job to Ocean’s Eleven, and even TV series Hustle, heist stories generally are about a team of guys, with maybe one token woman (who is hot). Ally Carter’s Heist Society isn’t quite as girl-centric a story as the Gallagher Girls, but she has a great, complex heroine as her protagonist, and deals very well with the moral ambiguities of the criminal life, as well as indulging in the very appealing idea of your family and your team being stronger than the sum of its parts.

I very much liked the antagonist set up in this story, a woman of a different generation who knows all of Kat’s family secrets and all the cons in the book – and the way that she and Kat used each other’s assumptions and preconceptions against each other. It’s a very entertaining dance, and one tinged with potential heartbreak every step of the way, as Kat moves out from the shadow of her family, determined to bring down this ghost from her uncles’ past.

Also, this one is about emeralds. Got to love a pair of sparkly, incredibly valuable, possibly cursed emeralds.

There was frustratingly little progress in the main romance of this series – though I was intrigued to see Carter bring back the elements of what looked like yet another love triangle, only to throw her hands up and pretty much admit that there’s only one horse in this race. Which is absolutely true, and JUST FINE thank you, and could they please get on with it? Sigh. One of these days I will actually wait until a series is finished before I start reading it…

No, I won’t.

The only trouble with all of Ally Carter’s books is after waiting ages for the latest volume to be released, I read them so fast that they barely touch the sides. Still, it’s lovely to have some books for teenage girls which are fluffy, witty and action-packed, without in any way being about princesses.

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