Crooked: Honest Criminality by Bronwen John

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Crooked: Honest Criminality by Bronwen John

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: More twists than a corkscrew and the tension level as high as it can get, you really won't know who's on who's side. A cracker.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: August 2020
Publisher: Matador
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1838595036

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Memories nobody but death can cheat me of... and I've always wondered if I can con him.

The con had seemed like a good one: tricking people into buying artwork supposedly by the new Banksy - and they should have made a decent profit from it. The problem was they were too successful: one of the marks had bought a few and then discovered that they were valueless. Henry Martin Holmes had fallen for a simple con and his father, celebrity criminal Harry Holmes, was determined that he and his family could not lose face like that. The grifters were going to pay. Ashia 'Ash' Cox and Max 'Colorado' Ying needed to be got out of the country. In the course of bringing this about, Luke Gaines, Ash's foster father, lost his life.

Ash is just sixteen but she became a pickpocket at thirteen and she's a good con artist. She'd learned a lot from Luke Gaines but she's now heading for Norway and the legendary Esther Crook. Crook's day job is poker player but what she doesn't know about the long-con isn't worth knowing. And Esther has her own reasons for going after Holmes: he killed her mother. It's not long before she's persuaded to put together a crew, with Ash as the insider, to hit Holmes where it hurts - in his reputation. It's not going to be easy though: Holmes is after Esther and the crime agencies are closing in too.

That actually sounded quite simple, didn't it? Well, it isn't. You're going to have to be in the wide-awake club to keep track of what's happening in Crooked: this book has real pace and you can't really relax until you've turned the final page. Even then you'll wonder if you've missed something important. There's that sort of dramatic tension. Strings are being pulled but by whom - and who is doing the conning? There's only one person you feel is really in control and that's Esther but it's not only in poker that she plays her cards close to her chest. Sometimes you'll wonder if you're being conned too...

I've not really been into TV programmes such as Hustle, so this was a whole, new genre for me and, boy, was I impressed. Don't worry if you're unfamiliar with a lot of the terms - there's an excellent glossary at the back of the book and I made a lot of use of it in the early pages - and then I was caught up in the story and it wasn't necessary. Bronwen John does a great job with her characters: I'll quibble very slightly and say that the women are better than the men but that is me being very picky. Esther has a strict moral code: she's not a thief and I loved her mantra: You can do what you like with the law; bend it, twist it, hide behind it... just don't break it.

Esther might be the star of the show but she has a splendid supporting actor in Ash Cox. John's skill as a writer is shown by the way that she brings out Ash's vulnerable side, her uncertainties and her impetuousness: she might be living in a world that's far from ideal for a girl in her mid-teens but John captures that moment in her development superbly.

I finished the book far too quickly and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a review copy to the Bookbag. I was also fortunate to be able to see a Kindle copy of Crooked (a luxury for most book reviewers) and it was a well-formatted and comfortable read. Text-to-speech, word wise and enhanced typesetting are enabled and screen reader is supported. The print length is 205 pages with an expected reading time of just over four hours.

For another heist story, have a look at Doors Open by Ian Rankin: it might be Rankin but Bronwen John has created a far-more gripping story in Crooked.

You can read more about Bronwen John here.

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