The Plot: Kat Bishop, 15 (the teen thief introduced in Heist Society) returns with a new criminal caper. Last time around, Kat was the girl who left, who tried (and failed) to get out of the family business. This time around, things start with Kat being a bit too good at it. She’s known as the girl who robbed the greatest museum in the world; she’s also been taking on projects to return artwork stolen by the Nazis to their rightful heirs. Truth be told, her friends and family, especially Hale and Gabrielle, aren’t happy that most of those projects have been solo.
Things change when Kat is approached and asked to steal the Cleopatra Emerald; or, rather, steal the Emerald back for its original owner. Problem is, the Emerald hasn’t been displayed in over 30 years. And, it’s cursed. And, her Uncle and other family members have said not to. But her father and Uncle Eddy are down in South America on a “project” and it’s just the type of challenge Kat wants to take on.
Unfortunately for Kat, the job turns out to be more than expected. Fortunately for Kat, she’s thick as thieves with a bunch of thieves. Teen thieves, that is.
The Good: I honestly believe there are two types of people in the world: those who love Ally Carter books, and those who haven’t read them yet. Those who do love them because they are “a good read”: fun, engaging, lively, smart. When certain critics moan over the dark state of YA literature, and where are the fun, lighthearted books, we turn to each other and say, “wait, what? There were no Ally Carter books on the shelves?”
The question I usually ask myself when reading a series: does it stand alone or is it best to read it in sequence? While Carter reintroduces the main characters to new readers (or, readers like me who read the first book a year ago), I think the books are best read in sequence to get the full flavor of Kat and her friends. So, go read my review of Heist Society and then read the book.
Next, does this particular volume stand alone or does it end on a cliffhanger? Standalone, my friend. So far, there is no series-long mystery or storyline. Uncommon Criminals is about the Cleopatra Emerald, and whether or not Kat manages to steal it and avoid any curses is resolved in this volume.
A caper story has to stay one step ahead of the reader; and Uncommon Criminals does that. Like the television show Leverage, Carter shows the reader just enough for the reader to think they know what is going on, only, not so much. Once or twice the reader may figure it out, only to fall behind in guessing in the next chapter. (And, you’re not watching Leverage?! Start, now. I’ll wait.)
Speaking of chapters: Uncommon Criminals may have the best ends of chapters ever. No, really. Yes, I thought about quoting them but sometimes they give away the twists, and that would be wrong. Seriously, if as a writer you want to know how to end a chapter to make the reader turn the page, read Uncommon Criminals. The chapter endings are also very elegant, in how they both wrap up the current chapter and lead into the next.
Finally, and this is the main reason why this book makes my Favorite Books Read in 2011 list, Uncommon Criminals is both fun and smart, in a way that doesn’t bop you over the head with it. It has a strong, smart, capable female lead. Issues touched on in the book include art, history, and issues of social justice. But, it’s never in a heavy, learn this way; it’s part of the fun.