Review written by Jeff Dougan.
I’m going to assume you’ve already read my review of Heist Society. If you haven’t, take a few minutes to look it over, because most of the same issues you may want to be aware of before recommending it crop again here.
Uncommon Criminals opens about two months after Kat and her crew have finished the Henley job, and Kat is in Moscow hard at work on her mission to help recover art stolen during WWII. What seems to be unusual is that she’s working alone, and doesn’t appear to have taken many precautions against getting caught, either.
As Hale is picking Kat up at the airport back in New York City, they are stopped by a woman who says her name is Constance Miller. Strangely, not only does Constance Miller have no reason Kat can think of to know who she is, she knows the name Visily Romani. Mrs. Miller tells Kat that, nearly 100 years ago, a man named Oliver Kelly looted a tomb her parents were excavating in Egypt and made off with the entire contents—including a 100+ carat emerald purported to have belonged to Cleopatra. She has spent at least a dozen years trying to recover the stone through the legal systems of two different countries, and is about to have her last option closed. Mrs. Miller says she was visited by Visily Romani, and that he told her Kat can help.
Back at Uncle Eddie’s brownstone, Kat & Hale are met by Gabrielle, and debate ensues about whether to take the job. Aside from Visily Romani’s involvement, relevant factors include the legend of a curse on the stone, Uncle Eddie’s failed attempt to steal it in 1968 and subsequent prohibition of Cleopatra jobs to the family, and that the rest of the family is in Paraguay (or is it Uruguay?).
When some further investigating reveals Mrs. Miller’s story to seem legitimate, Kat & Hale fly to Austria to visit another member of her family—one new to both Hale and the reader. Her Uncle Charlie is Uncle Eddie’s twin and an art forger. Kat has come to ask for the forgery of the Cleopatra Emerald he made in preparation for the 1968 attempt to steal it.
Fake in hand, they accomplish the heist by arranging to switch the two jewels while the real one is being polished and authenticated. They hand the real stone over to Mrs. Miller, and while Kat is leaving somebody in the crowd brushes by her. Kat discovers she’s been handed a card signed by Visily Romani that reads simply, “Get it back.”
Two televised news clips quickly reveal that Kat got conned. They can’t go to Uncle Eddie for help since not only is he busy in Uruguay (or is it Paraguay?), they’ve violated his stricture against Cleopatra jobs. Things are made even worse when Uncle Eddie comes to pay them a visit and it’s revealed that the woman who conned Kat used to be Eddie and Charlie’s partner. It’s likely that both brothers being in love with her before she betrayed them (it’s implied during the 1968 Cleopatra job) is the source of their estrangement.
As the crew from the Henley job reassembles, it becomes clear that they are out-experienced and outmaneuvered. The palace and casino in Monaco are two of the most secure places they’ve ever seen, their target knows (almost) all of them and has taken steps to counter their most effective gambits, and Uncle Eddie—who should be their most valuable asset—seems to be actively supporting the opposition.
Since much of the fun of a caper story centers around the twists and turns, I won’t spoil the end any more than I already have, except to say that it’s a great ride.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Shades of Gray
Heist stories always have the problem of rooting for somebody to get away with breaking the law, usually by putting them in opposition to somebody “worse.” Heist Society mitigated the issue through Kat’s motive and the issue of the art being stolen in the first place. Uncommon Criminals instead compounds it by making Kat’s motive for both jobs at least a little bit suspect. There’s also a constant tension between the family job in Paraguay (or is it Uruguay?) and following the directive from Visily Romani to “get it back.”
This book carries a strong thread of righting wrongs, starting with Kat’s theft of a Cezanne in Moscow that was stolen during WWII. It also plays into why Kat takes the first Cleopatra job and then feels compelled to do everything possible to see the second one through, as well as figuring into one of the final few twists at the end of the book.
Teenage relationship stuff
Kat kisses Hale for the first time right after the first Cleopatra job, and his immediate departure for Uruguay (or is it Paraguay?) has ripple effects. The necessary inclusion of Nick as the only member of the Henley crew unknown to “Mrs. Miller” has its own consequences since he and Hale are still jealous of each other, and this time it’s more overt.
There’s also a scene where Hale walks into the bedroom on his yacht to wake Kat up. It’s left ambiguous as to how dressed she is and what he does or doesn’t see (but doesn’t remark on, regardless), but he does start throwing clothes at her to encourage her to get ready and come up on deck.
Family is important to Kat, and the assorted tensions of doing this job while everybody else is in Paraguay (or is it Uruguay?), disobeying Uncle Eddie, involving Uncle Charlie, and having Uncle Eddie working against her all take a toll on Kat’s confidence that’s apparent to the reader.
A woman in a man’s world
It goes unremarked throughout Heist Society that Kat and Gabrielle are the only two female main characters. It’s emphasized here in a number of ways, from the description of the bedroom at Uncle Eddie’s that their mothers shared to being explicitly called out by “Mrs. Miller” as she offers to take Kat under her wing. On the other side of the law, it’s seen in Nick’s mom, who’s equally out of place at Interpol headquarters.
The recommendations I gave for Heist Society apply here—if you have no problem with letting your kid watch Sneakers or Leverage alone, there’s no content here to be afraid of. It should appeal to people who like smart heroes and fast paces.
Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter
Published in 2012 by Hyperion Books
Book 2 of the Heist Society series