Review written by Jeff Dougan.
About two years ago, a book cover jumped out at me at my local supermarket. The cover was an extreme close-up of a girl’s face peering knowingly over a pair of slightly oversized sunglasses, with the words Heist Society. I have a hard time resisting a good pun, and I’ve always enjoyed caper movies, so this seemed tailor-made to be something I would like.
We meet Katarina Bishop at an Honor Board hearing for a (fictional) elite private school. She’s accused of breaking curfew to drive the headmaster’s car into the fountain. Although she didn’t do it, the best defense she can offer—to explain, in detail, how she would have done it—will reveal that she not only faked her way into the school, but that she’s part of a family of thieves and grafters. She helped case her first joint at three, and has been working as a con artist and thief ever since. Unable to defend herself, she gets expelled.
Kat is picked up by Hale, her not-exactly-boyfriend—but also the person who engineered her expulsion. Kat’s father is in trouble. A very ruthless criminal suspects him of having stolen five priceless works of art from his hidden vault. Since Kat’s father is also under 24/7 surveillance by Interpol for the heist he did commit, he couldn’t go retrieve the other missing paintings even if he knew where they were.
While Kat and her friends investigate the theft, they learn two things. First, the person who took the paintings is good, and has used a name that the crime families will recognize as a warning to stay away. It’s a name so important that Kat’s great-Uncle Eddie—the head of the family—forbids her from trying to recover the missing artworks. Second, the paintings have been hidden in the most secure museum in the world.
The rest of the book follows Kat’s decision to try the heist anyway, and her crew planning and executing the heist. True to genre, there are twists coming right up until the very end.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Shades of Gray
One of the paradoxes of the heist book or movie is that we’re rooting for somebody to break the law and get away with it. It helps that the target is usually somebody “worse,” but that still doesn’t make what they’re doing right, in an absolute sense.
Two things mitigate this in Heist Society. First, one of the twists is that the paintings were all stolen by Nazis during WWII, and it turns out that Kat knows somebody who can return them to their rightful(?) owners. Second, the paintings were hidden inside the museum without the knowledge or assistance of any museum employee. Kat and her crew aren’t really stealing from a museum; they’re simply stealing things that happen to be at a museum.
The importance of family is a recurring theme throughout this and all of the Heist Society books, featuring most strongly in the third and most recent. Kat’s whole crew is made of people who she considers to be family—some actual blood relatives, some “adopted strays,” and some colleagues of her family’s going back before she was born. One of the family tensions is whether Kat should try to get her father out of trouble with the very bad criminal, or obey Uncle Eddie’s stricture to not try to do the job.
Teenage Relationship Stuff
The vast majority of the book stays close to Kat’s thoughts, and she has significant confusion as to how she feels about Hale. That’s magnified by Hale’s obvious (to the reader, anyway) jealousy toward one of the other boys, brought into the crew for the first time for this job. There are also a couple scattered references to boobs.
I’ve enjoyed all 3 Heist Society novels a great deal, but the moral grayness of the caper genre in general makes me hesitant to recommend them for somebody under 13. The benchmark I’d use is: Are you comfortable letting your kids watch Leverage or Ocean’s Eleven by themselves? If so, then I don’t think there’s any content to this book that you need to worry about.