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The Good Thief Hardcover – August 26, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 232 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

William Dufris handles this book as it was intended—as a sendup of several genres. He brings to life Tinti's family of orphans, grave robbers, scam artists, drunks and assorted freaks, narrating as though telling terrifying tales to Boy Scouts around a campfire. His children are squeaky-voiced, his adults harsh and raspy. He moves easily through successions of melodramatic scenes alternately ghoulish, maudlin, violent, gothic and hokey. Adults who love high camp and young adults who savor tales of blood and gore will eat it up. A Dial hardcover. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

This striking debut novel is an homage to old-fashioned boys-own adventure stories, and unfolds like a Robert Louis Stevenson tale retold amid the hardscrabble squalor of Colonial New England. The sheer strangeness of the story is beguiling: a one-handed boy, tainted by his upbringing in a Catholic orphanage and with little to offer but a head full of lice, is adopted by a con artist, and enters an underworld of ruthless mousetrap-manufacturing barons, feisty chimney-dwelling dwarves, and, perhaps most terrifying of all, black-market dentists. In keeping with the gothic tradition, Tinti writes with an arch, almost camp sensibility. While on a nocturnal grave-digging excursion to procure bodies for a crazy scientist, for instance, the pair encounter an assassin, who tells the twelve-year-old hero that he was made for killing. Will the boy ever discover the truth of his past? Its good fun watching him find out.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 327 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press (August 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385337450
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385337458
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (232 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,468,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By Stephanie Crawford VINE VOICE on August 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've always had a soft spot for literature and films that deal with orphans on grand adventures (film-wise my favorites are probably The Devil's Backbone and The City of Lost Children) and "The Good Thief" is definitely on par with the best of the best in the genre. Our hero is Ren, a fairly withdrawn orphan who is missing his left hand- he's not aware of how- who longs for a caring family of his own. His life in a Catholic orphanage/monastery is not easy, as expected, but also not tragic. It would be easy for the author to make it a maudlin tale of a young deformed boy under the rule of abusive priests- instead Tinti paints every character with empathy along with pathos.

When a young man named Benjamin arrives at the orphanage and picks Ren out of a line-up with a story of them being brothers, Ren's hope overrules his suspicions. Benjamin weaves a tale of a father who lived a high adventure and the tragic (but exciting) circumstances that took their parents away. However, Ren quickly discovers Benjamin is a skilled liar, and instead of being taken to a warm homestead they quickly fall into a pattern of theft, law breaking and compulsive lies.

From page one the story pulled me in with an almost old-fashioned kind of storytelling. Every character is deeply flawed but never wholly a villian, and the way Ren is almost immediately surrounded by a motley cast of characters feels natural. Everytime some awful event happened to Ren I was torn between wanting to cry out "Oh c'mon, give the kid a break!" and turning the pages even faster to find out how he'd use his bravery and natural intelligence to survive it.

There are twists to the story, twists that felt like the weird machinations in life rather than manipulated fictional climaxes.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
12-year old Ren lives at an orphanage in what is likely New England in a undefined 19th-century time period probably before the Civil War. Like most of the boys at the orphanage, Ren was abandoned as a baby. The only trace of his heritage are the clothes in which he was wrapped, the collar of which bore the initials R.E.N - hence his name. Adding to the mystery is the fact that he is missing a hand.

It's easy enough to "adopt" the boys -- money changing hands and a somewhat convincing story is enough for the Brothers who run the place -- but Ren's missing hand has kept him from finding the home he desperately wants until a young man named Benjamin Nab, who claims to be his long-lost brother, whisks him away.

But Nab is a con man, not Ren's brother at all. The missing hand first becomes a means by which Nab and his partner Tom can fleece the well-meaning and unsuspecting. Despite his good heart, however, Ren's time in the hardscrabble orphanage has also made him a good thief. He becomes a willing accomplice in Benjamin and Tom's increasingly desperate schemes until he meets two people who help him redefine the meaning of "family."

"The Good Thief" is a beautifully written book, lyrical in parts. Tinti does a fine job describing just how hard life could be for the poor and dispossessed, children especially. The smallest things - a shiny rock, a long-broken toy, a book - take on huge meaning for Ren and so for us. There is a lot to like in the way the book is written.

What makes "The Good Thief" disappointing is its ultimately farfetched plot. Like "Smilla's Sense of Snow" for example, "Thief" is wonderfully set up in the first half, only to careen out of control towards the end. A bizarre villain in a company town run amock rob Ren - and the reader - of what could have been a very satisfying and thoughtful ending.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was initially intrigued by the premise of The Good Thief; an orphan with a missing hand, a mysterious past, and an historical New England setting seemed like a solid combination. At first, I thought I'd found a solid first novel, and one that had a lot to offer the over-crowded young adult fiction section.

But The Good Thief isn't a young adult novel - or is it? I waffled back and forth between the evidence: a simplistic, almost fable-like writing style, a young child protagonist, and a bit of adventure and even mysticism thrown in suggested that this book would be best enjoyed by the YA crowd. Suggestive content and a lack of character development (strong characters are often the strength of YA novels) and a convoluted plot suggest otherwise. Frankly, it's as though Tinti simply couldn't make up her mind as to what kind of novel she wanted to write, and her editors did her a serious disservice by not guiding her onto one path or the other. This would have been a perfectly delightful YA book, but some of Tinti's choices make it seem like she was deliberately avoiding that path, and the story really suffers for it.

Perhaps most perplexing is the plot; at times bordering on random, readers may sense Tinti's desire to branch into magical realism, but she's never brave enough to fully make the plunge. She makes a few historical errors (e.g., twins weren't killed in 1800's New England, and tarring and feathering was often fatal and typically disfiguring), and her setting never feels quite believable. One gets the sense that the fault is not so much with the novelist, but with the editor; some guidance here and there would have made this a much tighter novel, and eliminated distracting errors.
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