“A dazzling tale of wild hope, lingering grief, admirable self-sufficiency, and intergenerational adoration.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “Vita tests her own limits, and readers will thrill at her cleverness, tenacity, and close escapes.” —Booklist “A satisfying adventure.” —Kirkus Reviews
From award-winning author Katherine Rundell comes a fast-paced, sharp-turning, and utterly thrilling adventure, one driven at its heart by an extraordinarily powerful evocation of the loyalty and love between a grandfather and his granddaughter.
Fresh off the boat from England, Vita Marlowe has a job to do. Her beloved grandfather Jack has been cheated out of his home and possessions by a notorious conman with Mafia connections. Seeing Jack’s spirit is broken, Vita is desperate to make him happy again, so she devises a plan to outwit his enemies and recover his home. She finds a young pickpocket, working the streets of the city. And, nearby, two boys with highly unusual skills and secrets of their own are about to be pulled into her lawless, death-defying plan.
Katherine Rundell’s fifth novel is a heist as never seen before—the story of a group of children who will do anything to right a wrong.
The Good Thieves CHAPTER ONE Vita set her jaw and nodded at the city in greeting, as a boxer greets an opponent before a fight.
She stood alone on the deck of the ship. The sea was wild and stormy, casting salt spray thirty feet into the air. All the other passengers on the ocean liner, including her mother, had taken sensible refuge in their cabins.
But it is not always sensible to be sensible.
Vita had slipped away and stood out in the open, gripping the rail with both hands as the boat crested a wave the size of an opera house. So it was that she alone had the first sight of the city.
“There she is!” called a deckhand. “In the distance, port side!”
New York climbed out of the mist, sky-high and gray blue and beautiful; so beautiful that it pulled Vita forward to the bow of the boat to stare. She was leaning over the railing, as far out as she dared, when something came flying at her head.
She gasped and ducked low. A seagull was chasing a young crow, pecking at its back, wheeling and shrieking in midair. Vita frowned. This wasn’t, she thought, a fair fight. She felt in her pocket, and her fingers closed on an emerald-green marble. She took aim, a brief and angry calculation of distance and angle, drew back her arm, and threw.
The marble caught the seagull on the exact center of the back of its skull. The gull gave the scandalized cry of an angry duchess, and the crow spun in the air and sped back toward the skyscrapers of New York.
• • •
They took a cab from the docks. Vita’s mother carefully counted out a handful of coins, and handed the driver the address. “As close as we can get for that, please,” she said, and he took in her carefully mended hems and nodded.
Manhattan sped past outside the window, bright bursts of color amid the storm-beaten brick and stone. They passed a cinema, its walls adorned with pictures of Greta Garbo, and a man selling hot lobster claws out of a cart. A tram thundered past at an intersection, narrowly missing a van advertising the Colonial Pickle Works. Vita breathed in the city. She tried to memorize the layout of the streets, to build a map behind her eyes; she whispered the names: “Washington Street, Greenwich Avenue.”
When the money ran out, they walked. They went as fast as Vita could go in the ferocious wind, suitcases in hand, along Seventh Avenue, dodging men in pinstripes and sharp-heeled women.
“There!” said Vita’s mother. “That’s Grandpa’s flat.”
The apartment building on the corner of Seventh Avenue and West Fifty-Seventh Street rose up, tall and stately in brownstone, from the busy pavement. A newspaper boy stood outside, roaring the headlines into the wind.
Across the road from the apartment block stood a light-red-brick building, its facade arched and ornamented. Flagpoles protruded from its wall, and two flags flapped wildly. Above them, picked out in colored glass, were the words CARNEGIE HALL.
“It all looks very . . . smart,” said Vita. The apartment block appeared to purse its lips at the world. “Are you sure this is the place?”
“I’m sure,” said her mother. “He’s on the top floor, right under the roof. It used to be the maid’s apartment. It’ll be a squeeze, but it’s not for long.” Their return ticket was booked for three weeks’ time. Enough time, said Vita’s mother, to sort out Grandpa’s papers, pack his few things, and persuade him to come home with them.
“Come on!” Her mother’s voice sounded unnaturally bright. “Let’s go and find him.”
The elevator was broken, so Vita half ran up the stairs to Grandpa’s apartment, jerkily, as fast as her legs would take her. Her suitcase banged against the walls as she raced up narrow flights of stairs, ignoring the growing pain in her left foot. She came to rest, breathless, outside the door. She knocked, but there was no response.
Vita’s mother came, panting, up the final flight of stairs. She bent to pick the apartment key from under the mat. She hesitated, looking down at her daughter. “I’m sure he won’t be as bad as we feared,” she said, “but—”
“Mama! He’s waiting!”
Her mother opened the door, and Vita went tearing down the hall; and then, in the doorway, she froze.
Grandpa had always been thin; handsome and lean, with long fine hands and shrewd blue-green eyes. Now he was gaunt, and his eyes had drawn back into his skull. His fingers had curled inward into fists, as if every part of him was pulling back from the world. A walking stick leaned against the wall next to his chair—he hadn’t needed a walking stick before.
He had not seen her, and, just for that second, his face looked sculpted from solid grief.
“Grandpa!” said Vita.
But then he turned, and his face was transfigured with light, and she could breathe again.
“Rapscallion!” He stood and Vita hurled herself into his arms, and he laughed, winded by the impact.
“Julia,” he said, as Vita’s mother came in, “I only got your telegram three days ago, or I would have stopped you—”
Vita’s mother shook her head. “Just try to hold us back, Dad.”
Grandpa turned to Vita. “Smile again for me, Rapscallion?”
So she smiled, at first naturally, and then, when he didn’t look away, wider, until it felt like every single one of her teeth was showing.
“Thank you, Rapscallion,” he said. “You have your grandmother’s smile, still.” Vita’s stomach suddenly clenched as she saw tears rise up in her grandpa’s eyes.
He coughed, and smiled, and cleared his throat. “God, it’s good to see you. But there was no need.”
Julia pushed Vita toward the door. “Go and find your room, darling,” she said.
“Please,” said her mother. Her face was white, and exhausted. “Now.”
“It’s the one at the end of the corridor,” said Grandpa. “More of a cupboard than a room, I’m afraid,” he said. “But the view is very fine.”
Vita went slowly down the corridor, her suitcase in hand. She noticed how the floorboards squeaked; how the paint peeled from the wall. She pushed at the door. It stuck; she held on to the wall and kicked it with her stronger foot. It flew open, scattering thin shards of plaster.
The room was so small she could practically touch all four walls at once, but it had a wooden wardrobe, and a window looking out over the street. Vita sat on the bed, pulled off her left shoe, and took her foot in both hands. She dug her fingers into the sole, pointing and flexing her toes, and tried to think.
They had arrived. She should be thrilled. They had made it across the ocean, halfway around the world, and New York waited outside the window, stretching up to the sky like the calligraphy of a particularly flamboyant god.
But none of that mattered at all, because Grandpa wasn’t as bad as she had feared. He was worse.
Vita’s skirt pockets were full of gravel from the garden back home; she picked out the largest stones and began to throw them at the wardrobe door. It helped her think.
A person watching might have noted that each hit the precise mathematical center of the wardrobe handle—but nobody was watching, and Vita herself barely noticed. Her mind was not on the stones.
She had to do something to make it right. She did not yet know what, nor how, but love has a way of leaving people no choice.
Katherine Rundell is the author of Rooftoppers, Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms (a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winner), The Wolf Wilder, and The Explorer. She grew up in Zimbabwe, Brussels, and London, and is currently a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. She begins each day with a cartwheel and believes that reading is almost exactly the same as cartwheeling: it turns the world upside down and leaves you breathless. In her spare time, she enjoys walking on tightropes and trespassing on the rooftops of Oxford colleges.
* "A dazzling tale of wild hope, lingering grief, admirable self-sufficiency, and intergenerational adoration."
– Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
"Vita tests her own limits, and readers will thrill at her cleverness, tenacity, and close escapes."
"A satisfying adventure."
– Kirkus Reviews
“With its rollicking crime plot, this is perhaps the most accessible of Rundell’s novels — and if you have yet to discover her, it’s a good place to start. It’s likely to be the best children’s book you’ll read this year.”
– Childrens Book of the Week, The Times
"A lovely story of friendship and adventure. A general purchase for medium and large libraries, and a natural choice wherever Rundell’s other books fly off the shelves."
– School Library Journal
"Fans of the ’20s, noir detective fiction, and heists will find an excellent compound of those elements here."
“This is as compelling as an Enid Blyton circus caper – if Blyton had written with inclusive compassion and the sort of limpid, elegant prose it’s a pleasure to sink into… Purring mafiosi, breathtaking feats of nerve and a crackling sense of atmosphere throughout make this book a single-sitting treat, showcasing Rundell at the peak of her powers.”
– Imogen Russell Williams, Guardian
“Rundell orchestrates the fast-paced, thrilling action and vivid, endearing characters with the precision of a watchmaker.”
– Daily Mail
“With a gripping plot and unforgettable characters, Rundell’s latest is another triumph.”
– Childrens Book of the Month, Mail on Sunday
“The Good Thieves is another suspenseful and beautifully written book that will delight Rundell fans.”
– Daily Telegraph
“Rundell’s books are as breathlessly intrepid as each sentence is elegantly sculpted.”
– Alice Jones, i Weekend
“This book is all about loyalty, bravery and friendship. It will captivate young readers.”
– Dundee Sunday Post
"Rundell has a gift for precise and beautiful descriptions… The book is full of lovely, startling scenes, such as one involving a white horse galloping through the early morning city, as well as a generous-hearted sense of adventure and companionship. Rundell uses, and gently subverts, the classic treasure-hunting story.”
– Philip Womack, Literary Review
"Beautifully written and full of scenes that both thrill and enchant, The Good Thieves is Rundell at her classy best.”
– Andrea Reece, LoveReading4Kids (June 2019 Book of the Month)
“The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell (published by Bloomsbury in June) introduces an equally feisty heroine, Vita, in this fifth novel by the award winning author. A heist as never seen before – the story of a group of children who will do anything to right a wrong.”
– National Literacy Trust
"Another exceptional book from one of our favourite storytellers. It’s a showstopping heist glittering with New York City magic and wonder, blazing with danger and bravery. Her best book yet.”
– Angels & Urchins
"Exquisite characterisation meets sublime storytelling in this thrilling, spectacular ride of an adventure. Another classic in the making from Katherine Rundell.”
– Book Lover Jo
"This tale of love, family, friendship and loyalty is a captivating adventure from the master of story-telling.”
– Kando Bonkers About Books
"With themes of loyalty and friendship, righting wrongs and clever thinking, this is a smart, pacey heist novel, with an inherent sense of wit throughout. Reminiscent of Emil and the Detectives in its wise way of children working together and outwitting evil adults, yet with the Rundell idiosyncrasies that mark her stories as being a cut above the rest.”
– Minerva Reads
"The Good Thieves is a thrilling middle grade heist full of heart and heroism… The incredible plot has so much to admire, full of twists and with just the right amount of threat to keep you on the edge of your seat, The Good Thieves is storytelling at its best.”
– The Book Activist
"Rundell's work could be book talked as a read alike for those who loved The War That Saved My Life or a modern day rendition of Robin Hood."
– School Library Connection
"Fast-paced and sharply written, with a generous dose of heart and humor, Rundell’s fifth novel will appeal to readers with a penchant for grand escapades, a strong sense of justice and a soft spot for the underdog."