Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti








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The protagonist of Hannah Tinti’s debut novel, The Good Thief, is a one-handed orphan named Ren. Set in 19th century New England, the story is packed with adventures for Ren as he leaves an orphanage and gets involved in one set of predicaments after another. Tinti avoids making The Good Thief a sappy story, and I found myself anxiously turning the pages rooting for Ren to get out of one peril after another. Here’s an excerpt, from his life in the orphanage, pp. 15-16:

To make up for this, Ren stole things. It began with small items of food. He'd stand in front of the cook after cleaning out the fireplace, and the man would glance at the boy's scar, and then turn and study a pile of cabbages while shouting for someone to wash the beans, and it was just enough time for Ren to slip one of the pieces of bread left out on the counter into his pocket.

He never took anything that couldn't be easily hidden away. He stole socks and shoelaces, combs and prayer cards, buttons, keys, and crucifixes. Whatever crossed his path. Sometimes he would keep the items, sometimes he would return them, some­times he would toss them down the well. In this way Ren was re­sponsible for most of the lost things being prayed for at the statue of Saint Anthony.

The items he kept were stashed inside a small crack about a foot from the edge of the well, Leaning over the stone wall, Ren could fit his hand inside the hiding place, his breath echoing back to him from the water far below. There was a broken piece of blue and white pottery, a snake skin he'd found in the woods, a set of rosary beads he'd stolen from Father John, made from real roses, and, most important of all, his rocks.

Every boy at Saint Anthony's collected rocks. They hoarded stones as if they were precious objects, as if the accumulation of feldspar and shale would pave their way to a new life. If they dug in the right places, they found rarer things pieces of quartz, or mica, or arrowheads. These stones were kept and traded and loved, and sometimes, when the children were adopted, they were left behind.

That afternoon, when Brother Joseph had fallen asleep, William's rocks were spread out across the floor of the barn, and the boys began to argue over how to divide them. There were per­haps thirty or forty pieces. Rocks that gleamed like metal, or had brown and black stripes, or reds and oranges the color of the sunset. But the best of the collection was a wishing stone, a soft gray rock with an unbroken circling band of white. Good for one wish to come true.

Ren had seen only one before—it had belonged to Sebastian. He'd shown it to Ren once, but he wouldn't let anyone hold it. He was afraid of losing the wish. He was saving it, he said, for a time when he was in trouble, and he'd taken it with him when he left for the army. Later, outside the brick wall that surrounded the orphanage, his lips cracked from the sun, Sebastian told Ren through the swinging door in the gate that someone had stolen the wishing stone while he slept. "I shouldn't have held on to it," he wept. "I should have used it as soon as it came into my hands."

The rafters of the barn caught the boys' voices and sent them back, louder and more forceful, as they bargained over William's collection. A few had already noticed the wishing stone. Once William's rocks were divided, Ren was sure to lose his chance. He edged closer to where it lay on the ground, rolling up his sleeve as he went. Then he pretended that someone had shoved him from behind, and threw his body into the center of the group, scrambling on the floor, the stub of his left arm covering his right. The group elbowed him to the side.

"Shove off."


The Good Thief is a worthy debut novel of a talented writer, and I look forward to reading more from Hannah Tinti.


Steve Hopkins, November 20, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the December 2008 issue of Executive Times


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