I love me a good caper story. Lighter, smarter, funnier, and a lot less gory than many other sorts of crime fiction, done well, they are great fun to read. And when a heist is involved, ideally in some exotic locale, all the better. I’m not an expert by any means, but my favorite of these sorts of stories involve some sort of initiating event and then a super cool and super smart individual assembling and leading a motley crew to steal something from someone who doesn’t deserve to have it in the first place. Say the movies, “How to Steal a Million” or “Ocean’s Eleven.” Now along comes Jude Watson‘s Loot: How to Steal a Fortune. Her name may not be terribly familiar to you, but what she’s written probably is, say a bunch of the 39 Clues books and many (many) Star War titles. But what caused me to snap up and read this title was when I learned that Jude Watson happens to also be Judy Blundell who wrote the fabulous National Book Award winner What I Saw and How I Lied.
It starts out darkly with a job gone very, very wrong. We meet almost-thirteen-year-old March McQuinn, who has spent his whole life traveling around with his father, helping him with his cons and heists, mostly homeschooled in a desultory way. Now Alfie McQuinn has fallen off an Amsterdam roof and March is sitting next to him listening to his dying words, “Find jewels.” The moonstones, the grieving March assumes, seven otherworldly gems that are the central objects of desire in this novel. But it turns out that his father means something else entirely. It seems March has a twin sister named Jules from whom he has been separated his whole life. She, like March, has had an unconventional upbringing and is equally savvy in the murky world of con artists and thieves. The two soon meet and end up in a dreary American foster home. There they join forces with two other smart young people and head off to solve the mystery of their father’s death, get those moonstones, and do a whole lot more that is far too complicated to describe in brief, not to mention potentially spoiling if I do. What I can say is that it is loads of fun.
As in the best caper and heist stories, this one is full of snappy dialog, razor-sharp sentences, and clever plotting. The baddies are deliciously nasty and deserve what they get, the kids are endearing, and all in all it is a great edge-of-your seat read.