Orchard Books, 2011 (2010)
This book was a lot like being swept up on a wave of improbability and having such a fun time that you forget to look down until the end. This was my second Ally Carter novel - the other being the first Gallagher Girls book - and the two have a lot in common.While the Gallagher Girls books take place in a boarding school for spies, Heist Society opens up with Kat being expelled from her prestigious school for a crime she didn't commit. She finds herself thrust back into a world of robbery, heists, secrecy and ingenuity, a life she has tried to escape only to find she must pull off the most difficult job yet in order to save her father's life.
Carter gets the pacing spot on in this book, and I think this is its outstanding feature. The backstory is only ever glimpsed or mentioned briefly by other characters. It has to be pieced together, rather than stopping for much exposition, and this meant the action started up almost immediately and didn't let up until the end. Kat has a certain number of days in which to steal a number of paintings from the world's most impenetrable gallery, aided by a group of her equally skilled friends. A bit like Ocean's 11 with fifteen year olds.
The plot is vaguely ludicrous and highly improbable, and the reason that Kat must do the theft in the first place is a bit mad, but as a piece of fun action-adventure it works. It would almost work better as a film that as a book, in a way. There's a romantic element that lingers in the background, but I wonder if that is explored over subsequent books in the series - there were a few things in Heist Society (the dead mother, the family business that Kat maintains an uneasy relationship with, her reasons for running away to school) that seemed important but had to remain on the sidelines, that I suspect might be revisited in later installments.
A fun, slightly silly but gripping adventure with a lot of dashing around Europe and plenty of instances of distracting security guards, crawling through air vents, and hacking into the mainframe. This is definitely worth a read if you enjoyed Carter's other series, or if you just fancy a bit of escapism.
Overall rating: 5.5/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.