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Heist Society: Ally Carter, Orchard Books 2011

Before my increasing disillusionment with Ally Carter's 'Gallagher Girls' series got really bad, I'd bought a copy of 'Heist Society', the first in another series. Having finished the Gallagher Girls books, it was time to turn to this. I hoped, at least, that she'd written it having learned about what it takes to write a series of books. I can now report that, as an introduction to a new series and a standalone story, this works well, and is promising, if Carter can judge the rest of the books rightly.

Kat, the heroine, is Katarina Bishop. We meet her as she's getting expelled from the prestigious Colgan School for a prank that she claims she didn't commit, and indeed, she didn't. It was done at the behest of a member of her family, to get her out of boarding school and back to the life she was born to - that of a thief. Yes, Kat is a cat-burglar (get it?).

If the Gallagher Girls series was about ten spies-in-training, this is about young thieves and con artists, but of the Ocean's Eleven variety. Kat herself, in trying to get out of the life, but being dragged back for noble reasons, is the best of the bunch and aware that what she’s been brought up to do will lead to prison, rightly. To provide some moral compass, the writer brings in thieves who retrieve art and treasure purloined from the Jews by the Nazis.

To protect her father, Kat must take on the job of retrieving objects a very powerful man believes her father stole from him. Kat's father swears he doesn't, and she believes him, but Arturo Taccone is implacable, and so she must rustle up a team to help get those objects back to Taccone. But first, Kat has to win her peers over, because she walked out on them too and not just her family, and the way of life they don’t share her qualms over.

'They' include Hale, her will they/won't they boy, a billionaire with abandonment issues, the Bagshaw brothers, tech-whizz Simon and Kat's cousin Gabrielle, with whom she has a slightly antagonistic relationship, because Gabrielle is nine months older and prettier than Kat, and doesn't see why she shouldn't use all her assets to get what she wanted.

In striking contrast to the Gallagher Girls, this is very much a book about being a girl in a male world. Gabrielle is an exception and Kat barely interacts with any other women or girls. Kat's mother died (yes, another dead parent) when she was a child, and she was brought up by her father and her great-uncle, Uncle Eddie to everyone in the know. I missed all the girls and women, although Kat is certainly competent at what she's grown up doing, give or take a little rustiness after a few months off.

Carter sets up a sort of mythology - it's hinted that Kat's mother's family is of Russian extraction, and one of 'the families' for whom thieving is their business, a craft passed down from generation to generation. A mysterious figure who uses a ‘Pseudonima’, a fake name that the families use for special jobs, appears, and will presumably be a recurring figure in the next book. The question of Kat's loyalty to the family business (of nicking stuff) and to the others who do it is a thread throughout.

It's less comic than the (earlier) Gallagher books, and the striking difference is that it's written in the third person, mainly following Kat around the globe, working against the countdown Taccone has set her. In one chapter - during the big job itself - Carter pops into most of the team members' heads, except mysterious Nick, a last-minute addition to the team, who brings in even more tension between Kat and Hale. Personally, I wish Carter had kept to the same pattern as established in the rest of the story, which worked better than Cammie Morgan’s confessionals.

I also wish, as I did with GG, that she'd got someone from the UK to look the book over (at least for the British publication). Some of the action is in London, centring around the imaginary museum Kat adores (its founder is arguably a Gillian Gallagher figure) but there were quite a few American anachronisms that irritated me. However, I'm looking forward to the further adventures of Kat and her team. I'd like to see more female characters, and a little more of Kat’s relationship with her father, for although he's the emotional crux to her actions they don't interact much because she's trying to keep him safe. It’ll be interesting to see whether Carter will have come up with a good enough heist plot for the return to be worth it.

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