The Greater Thief by Alexandra Carey

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The Greater Thief by Alexandra Carey

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A crime thriller for our age combining beautiful language with brutal reality and compelling story telling, this opens up the world of our street gang culture with a poignant understanding.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 269 Date: September 2012
Publisher: Roundfire
ISBN: 978-1780995519

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Shots ring out on a London street. Among those listening are three people for whom the effects will echo for a lot longer than the sound itself. Policeman's daughter and student Alice is sitting in a nearby pub doing uni work. Paul the local trainee vicar is on parish business. His connection is fancying Alice. They're friends and almost became an item but Paul is a lot older than she is, his hopes finally being dashed when she met Josh. Yes, Josh, a gang member with both a conscience and a heart, is the third person. The page from a book of poetry given to him by Alice is found on the resulting body. Did Josh commit the murder? Can Alice help him? And, if Paul is going to assist, how far dare he go?

Theatre director and author Alexandra Carey clearly demonstrates her background. Not only is the novel divided into four acts, it also plays across your imagination like a TV drama people cancel plans in order to watch. The fact that it's based on the true life experiences of people she's spoken to makes it even more compelling and, indeed, heart rending.

The title's from Alice's dream. A fairy 'Light Thief' steals the light from young innocent girls' eyes. This is precisely what life and bitter experience do to her, stealing her youthful innocence and emphasising her middle-class roots as she races against time to prove Josh's innocence. For the first time in her life Alice realises that it's not just about telling the truth.

As much as he loves Alice, Josh realises that she (and, therefore, we) don't understand the webs that gangs weave, binding young people's lives and minds. They became his family and the strong ties of loyalty shackle him like the harshest handcuffs. He may be a gang member with morals but morals may not save his life, in fact morals may kill him.

Paul is unable to tell Alice how he feels but this is just one complication of his life as he gets used to inner city life and works out how he will demonstrate his faith to his parishioners. He's also very lucky being given two days off as clergy are generally contracted to just one day (and sometimes as many as four evenings) off a week. As a clergy spouse (as we're so complimentarily named) I had to mention that, but the novel is so good that it ruins nothing.

Alexandra Carey mixes thrills with poetry with fairy stories and folklore with rap. During the two days I spent with this book if I wasn't reading it I was thinking about it and looking forward to being reunited with its pages. One of the things that kept drawing me back was the uncertainty. You start thinking that it can only go one way and then something happens and you're thrust in a new direction, convoluting as each character narrates their own chapter in turn, eliciting the full gamut of readers' emotions. Although, if you're anything like me, the predominant emotion is frustration for Josh as realisation dawns: there are many good gang kids unable to escape the lifestyle and imprisoned in a certain societal position. As the novel states, there's more than one type of prison and here we meet those held in place by authority's expectations, judgement and attitudes. Yes, authority – the notional good guys.

It's not a coincidence that the piece of poetry that Josh and Alice share is WB Yeats' Cloths of Heaven as the last lines seem so appropriate:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

David Cameron may have gone over the top when he suggested that we all 'hug a hoodie', but perhaps it would help if we tried to understand the dreams of the kids hanging around our world's periphery and, when we're ready to, The Greater Thief is a great place to start.

A special thank you to Roundfire for sending us a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this then we also recommend Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May, another novel showing a snapshot of what it's like to be young and in trouble in today's Britain.

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Buy The Greater Thief by Alexandra Carey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Greater Thief by Alexandra Carey at


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