Sunday, 23 October 2011
"The Good Thief's Guide to (insert foreign and interesting city location here)" series, by Chris Ewan
Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
I discovered this series of novels purely by chance, having noticed "The Good Thief's Guide to Venice" in my local library while on my continuing search for novels set in this beautiful city. I borrowed it, only to then discover that it was the fourth in a series. As I am as obsessive with my reading as I am with many other things in my life, I had to read the others in the series before I could read Venice.
Chris Ewan's novels feature a character called Charlie Howard who is an author of mystery fiction and a sometime burglar, whose fictional hero is a burglar. In the first in the series, Charlie gets into an adventure in Amsterdam and has to move on to a different city when this is concluded; in the second in the series Charlie gets into a scrape in Paris which results in him being declared persona non grata and having to leave, then he goes to Las Vegas, and so on. He is joined in his misadventures by Victoria, his agent, who graduates from being a voice on the phone in the first novel to being a companion in subsequent novels.
One thing that can be annoying about some "gentleman thief" tales is the apparent invulnerability of the protagonist. One of the strengths of this series is that Charlie is fallible: he often makes bad choices - occasionally for good, noble reasons, or through flawed reasons like personal gain, vanity, stubborness or curiosity - and he has to try to muddle through the consequences of his actions. Chris Ewan has added to this by giving his anti-hero early onset arthritis in his hands. This gives Charlie an additional obstacle to overcome, making the picking of locks difficult for him, and this human frailty makes him a more vulnerable and sympathetic character. Charlie has flaws, and this makes him an interesting (anti)hero.
This is a series that I felt got stronger and more interesting with each novel. The growing friendship - or maybe something more - with Victoria is one of the pleasures of the series, as we gradually learn about her character and background. I also felt that the sense of place gets stronger through the series - although admittedly I am not the best person to comment on this as I haven't been to Paris and Las Vegas to judge how well Chris Ewan evokes the atmosphere of these settings. I have been to Amsterdam and Venice, though, and I enjoyed being reminded of them by reading the novels that he sets there. I gather from visiting his blog, which can be found here, that he visits each setting for his novels a few times and his blog has some segments of video that he recorded while on research trips to his locations. When we visited Venice it was autumn and we were lucky with the weather, so I have not experienced the bleak, atmospheric "Don't Look Now" Venice that is Charlie's wintery experience.
Chris Ewan is on Twitter, where he is a friendly presence who appears to have a convivial relationship with his fans. I mentioned him before on this blog in my post "How I have been contributing to authors' cavities" and, when I decided as an experiment to tweet my post to the authors that I mentioned to see what response I would get, he was kind enough to add a comment as "Partners in Crime" (Michael Jecks and David Hewson were also supportive enough to respond, for which I am equally grateful). In the "Good Thief" series he has postmodern, playful fun with the blurring of boundaries between himself as author and his (anti)hero as author (to the best of my knowledge, he does not have a sideline career in robbery). I enjoyed this series so far because I felt that it was postmodern in an entertaining way - having fun with the conventions of mystery novels, as opposed to more arch and knowing examples of postmodern fiction - and Charlie and Victoria are engaging characters. I understand from his tweets that Chris Ewan has been working on another in the series set in Berlin, as well as working on a standalone novel, and I wish him luck and good fortune with these. I look forward to reading them...