A review of Heist Society by Ally Carter
Published 2010, Disney • Hyperion
Readers know this: sometimes you’re in the mood for Rilke, there are days you have to read Coming Through Slaughter just one more time, and moments come when even Foucault feels like light reading. (Hah, who am I kidding, that last one doesn’t really happen.) And, some days, pulp is what makes you happy.
It was on one such particular day that I met Katarina Bishop, prodigy purloiner. The book begins with sixteen-year-old Kat, just retired from her thieving career, being grilled by the board of the school she has chosen for her regular life. Two days before, “the headmaster’s mint-condition 1958 Porsche Speedster [was] placed on top of the fountain in the quad with water shooting out of its headlights.” It turns out that Kat’s old friends were trying to get her kicked out of school; she needs to take a sabbatical from her retirement, for one last con, one last job to save her father’s life.
I guess Kat and I were thinking the same thing: Who doesn’t love a good con?
Everything that followed happened in a span of two weeks, with settings that spanned multiple countries across two continents. The story was so fast-paced and dynamic, I was happy and excited that each chapter opened with a countdown to the deadline and a location stamp. This book was just what I needed: it was fun, snappy, and intense.
Granted, the narrative was formulaic. We get to see the planning, the negotiations with the villain, the actual mission, and the reveal. But what more would one ask for in a heist story? All I demand is a believable method of stealing and escape—given that our thieves here are teens, that’s already a challenge—and this book delivered the goods.
Of course the characters were taken right out of the Catalog of Archetypes—the unwilling leader partnering up with a dashing conman, a femme fatale, a couple of strongmen, a tech geek, and an unlikely ally. If this were a different type of book, I would have taken a point against it exactly for this, and considered it lazy and unimaginative. But I found the characters were okay, if a bit expected, for the kind of story being told.
I also didn’t mind the love angle between Kat and Hale (whom I imagined as a teen Neal Caffrey). There definitely was history and chemistry between them; I have to admit they were cute. I was just hoping—maybe the cover is to blame—that I would encounter a female lead who wouldn’t easily fall under the tough girl category. I thought I had finally found a strong female protagonist who was actually coded female, instead of somebody biologically a girl but generally had male qualities. (MovieBob explores this destructive and discriminatory feminine=bad/masculine=good character trend in a 7-minute video. Watch it.)
Even so, I have to say that in truth, Heist Society delivered more than just the good heist plot. In one of the high points of the book, Kat discovers something about the objects they were planning to steal—something that gave their otherwise personal and materialistic endeavor social and ethical gravitas.
It was my first time reading Ally Carter, and I’m happy to see I have more of her to read (and that I also have a movie to look forward to). More than just being able to write an easy and enjoyable read—in itself something a lot of writers struggle with, she was able to provide insight to art and history without being preachy and self-righteous. High praises are deserved for pulling that off in a story that would naturally lend itself to moralizing. I have to give it to the author, who’s a real pro of the con. (Yes, I had to end with the silliest pun in the history of blogging.)