Ewan, Chris. The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam.

NY: St. Martin, 2007.

Charlie Howard is a British author of detective novels, the continuing protagonist of which is a burglar. Strangely enough, Charlie Howard himself is also a burglar. He’s not really a bad guy — picking the locks to places where he oughtn’t to be and taking things that don’t belong to him just gives him a special thrill and also helps with his cash flow.

He likes to live for awhile in the cities where his stories are set and just now he’s wrapping up a book in Amsterdam. And then he’s approached by an American who wants him to break into two homes and steal a small figurine from each — the Three Wise Monkeys, in fact. Charlie is puzzled because they’re made of plaster and obviously are intrinsically worthless. But he does the job anyway and then finds that the guy who hired him has been beaten senseless. And then things really start to get out of hand. Charlie is going to have to solve what becomes the American’s murder in order to protect himself, both from the police and from the real killer. The plotting is pretty good and so is the character of Charlie, who tends to approach the case the same way he handles the construction of the plot in one of his novels. He even sets up a classic Detective Reveals All scene in the last chapter. (He just can’t pass up the opportunity.) As a first novel, this is a pretty good one.

However.

This book would really have benefited from the attentions of even a novice copyeditor. There are far too many weird constructions, peculiar usages, and just plain errors. Charlie says a number of times (intransitively) that he “was stood outside” some building or “was sat” in a chair. If that’s a regional Brit idiom, I’ve never heard it before. On another occasion, he rather jarringly describes a damaged item as a “right off.” (“Team” and “teem” aren’t actually synonymous, either.) Nor can I quite visualize stepping “inside the threshold” of a door. He should also consult a grammar book regarding the use of commas to set off appositives and other phrases. There are at least a dozen more sloppy missteps like this and they’re quite jarring to a reader who’s paying attention. Finally, Charlie makes a point of not wanting anything to do with guns — he’s a burglar, not a heavy — but as a writer of crime novels, are we seriously to believe he doesn’t know that the rectangular thing inserted in the grip of an automatic pistol that holds the ammunition is called a “clip” and not a “cartridge”? Plus which, in the last scene in the warehouse, the automatic appears to morph into a revolver with a swing-out cylinder. And, yeah, Ewan also tends to simply over-write at times, to the point where the average creative writing teacher would call him on it — but this is a first novel, so I’ll be lenient about his occasionally slightly magenta prose.

By the way, I’ve been reading this series out of order, and the third installment, set in Las Vegas, has none of the above noted problems, so it appears some editor was at least paying attention after the fact.

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Published in: on 15 January 2012 at 7:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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