on 21 December 2012
Charlie Howard, the gentleman burglar with a penchant for quick wit and even quicker access through a locked door, is back.
Now shacked up in Berlin, attempting to finish his latest novel, mystery writer Charlie Howard, with his sideline in burglary is summoned to a meeting with what turns out to be someone from the British Embassy. Charlie is hired to recover a top secret item, with two important caveats. One - it could be in one of four different employees homes. And two - he can't be told what that item is. Veronica - Charlie's long suffering literary agent - negotiates a fee for the series of burglaries, with Charlie still struggling to discover how he can steal an item he doesn't have the first clue what it actually is. The intrigue deepens, as whilst he's searching the first apartment for the mystery item, he witnesses what looks like the murder of young woman in a window opposite. As the pace increases, Charlie finds himself in the middle of an international incident, as Russian, French, and American agents all converge on him, attempting to recover the mysterious item he has been hired to steal. Soon, Charlie is not only trying to steal a sensitive item for his government, but also deal with the growing sense of danger which comes from all sides.
I've been a massive fan of the GTG series for a couple of years now, the glorious one-liners, unlocking the mysteries, and the sense of character brought out by Ewan in seemingly familiar major cities worldwide, from Amsterdam to Venice to Las Vegas.
Rhetorical question time...Does Berlin measure up to its predecessors?
Answer...More than you'd guess.
TGTG Berlin (I'm abbreviating) is a remarkable story. Charlie Howard has lost none of his capacity for wicked one-liners, his relationship with Veronica, oft hinted at, is explored further, and the cast of surrounding characters are incredibly well written. What could become caricature in other hands, under Ewan's steady hand becomes a well-rounded cast of nefarious foes, all with their own motivation and story. There's a German character who should have his own series, such is his stand-out turn in this novel - as well as a diplomatic aide named Freddy who is written so well, you can almost smell his sweat dripping off the page.
The plot of the book is gloriously unfolded over just a couple of days in the book, with Charlie's increasing sense of dread as to what he's got himself into becomes apparent. The opening takes a couple of chapters to really take off, slowly guiding us into the real story. Perhaps a little more judicious editing could have been given at that point, but it's a minor quibble in what is an excellent read overall. As a seemingly ordinary series of burglaries becomes so much more, Charlie is forced into some very dangerous situations. However, that spark of wit never leaves him, lifting the novel from the level of "comic caper" into just a damn fine novel. Twists and turns along the way ensure that you keep turning the page, and a wonderful final chapter is arguably the best ending to a book I've read all year, for fans of the series.
An outstanding read, I couldn't recommend this more.
on 20 March 2013
For many reasons I've been a fan of the Good Thief's Guide series about the crime writer and gentleman thief Charlie Howard ever since I read TGTGT Paris about three years ago.
Charlie Howard is not at all like those James-Bond-I-can-do-everything-kind-of-heroes who are brilliant at everything, know everything, never need any help and are never afraid. Charlie makes mistakes, is vulnerable, has a lot of self-doubts and would be totally lost without his best friend and literary agent Victoria; in other words: He's a guy who is only slowly growing into a part he's not really made out for. Which makes him more believable and likeable as a character.
Each book in the series is set in a different city and Charlie's Paris and Berlin adventures are proof enough for me that Chris Ewan has the IMHO rare talent to recreate each city's special atmosphere, because I know both cities myself.
As for the plot, well, always be prepared for an intriguing story, a lot of suspense, many hilarious moments, unexpected plot twists and superb wittiness.
In his Berlin adventure Charlie is asked by a representative of Her Majesty's Government to retrieve an item that had been stolen from the British Embassy in Berlin. He is given the addresses of the four likely suspects' homes. However, Charlie is not told what said item looks like, only that he will know as soon as he sees it. What follows is an eventful and exciting search in a wonderfully described Berlin for an item not only the British have an interest in; a fact which poses a threat to Charlie's and Victoria's safety.
I would like to say more, but that would mean to give away too much. So I just say that like the others in the series, TGTGT Berlin is a fantastic and absolutely unputdownable book.
on 16 January 2013
Just finished a great read! I have to say, I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the Good Thief series! What struck me first was the chemistry between the characters, particularly Charlie and Victoria. Charlie Howard, the thief cum writer, is witty and likeable, drawing similarities with other hardboiled detectives that we all love (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Kemel Kayankaya etc). Victoria is also a believable ally who challenges Charlie and displays an unusual ruthless streak due to the fact that she earns commission on Charlie's endeavours, whether criminal or not.
The Good Thief's Guide to Berlin provides a good mystery straight off. Charlie is half-heartedly enlisted to investigate a missing item which was stolen from the British Embassy in Berlin. However, the catch is, Charlie isn't allowed to know what he's looking for. What follows (without too many spoilers) is a tempestuous search, hampered by other interested parties muscling in, as well as threats to the safety of both Charlie and Victoria.
What I enjoyed about the novel was the sharp dialogue, the page-turning plot, and as I said before, the solid relationship between Charlie and Victoria. My only gripe might be that Charlie goes through a lot, albeit as it is with a lot of hardboiled novels, that sometimes you wonder just how many injuries the character can realistically withstand. However, it's a well-written novel with a rich bank of characters to draw on, which makes it an enjoyable ride. You know you're reading a good novel when you're interested in seeing the side characters and they have real stories behind them.
The retrieval of mystery item, which at first seems like it could be straightforward, soon becomes a complex and messy task, which has far-reaching and serious repercussions.
Much recommended and I will definitely be looking at Ewan's other novels.
Like some smiles in your mystery? There are quite a few to be found in The Good Thief's Guide To Berlin, another masterful blend of mirth and mystery in Chris Ewan's Good Thief series. Seldom has a fellow with such a distinctly larcenous bent been as likable as novelist/thief Charlie Howard. He's self-effacing (always good for a chuckle), clever and ofttimes foolhardy - this time in rainy Berlin.
The Good Thief series not only boasts intriguing characters but painterly descriptions of settings, witty aside to cover almost any situation, and well honed plots. Now, Charlie has one guiding principle - "Don't Get Caught." Plus, he has a list of rules such as he doesn't leave a mess after breaking in, doesn't steal anything of sentimental value, etc. And this time out he needs to add a new rule - "Don't admire the view."
At the behest of his agent, Victoria Newbury, Charlie is supposed to be working on his next novel. Instead he's taken on a new client, in part because he believes he's doing a service for the British government. This is a rather complex case - a British embassy representative is offering him a tidy sum to retrieve something that he's unable to describe, simply saying
You'll know it when you see it." Charlie is supposed to search the homes of four people, each of whom may have the valued object.
The first apartment he enters seems to hold nothing of value. But as Charlie was in the habit of smoking and staring out a window when he "was feeling thoroughly vexed" he almost did just that save for the fact that he never smoked inside a place he had broken into. So he simply stared out a window and saw a murder being committed across the way. What to do? He placed an anonymous call to the police then was thoroughly baffled when he saw them come out of the building without a corpse or a suspected murderer.
This haunts him until he and Veronica are confronted by those who would stop at nothing to take what they believe Charlie has. Plus, he has three more places to search. There's never a dull moment in The Good Thief's Guide to Berlin and never a lack of humor. Enjoy!
= Gail Cooke
on 25 January 2013
I've always had a bit of a soft spot for gentleman thieves - blame Hitchcock for that one - so Chris Ewan's Good Thief's Guides were a delightful find. These globe trotting caper novels are a skilful blend of crime, humour and travel guide, following the adventures of mystery writer and master of elegant reappropriations, Charlie Howard. Berlin is the fifth book in the series and Ewan cleverly plays on the reader's expectations of the city, giving us a new generation of Cold War Allies embroiled in classic DDR era naughtiness.
Back after a brief hiatus, Charlie is in Berlin slaving over a new book, which doesn't want to be written, when he's contacted by a representative of Her Majesty's Government with an intriguing proposition - one nights work, four locations to be 'accessed' and a certain, unspecified something to be recovered. The diplomat refuses to reveal the object of the search, insisting, mysteriously, that Charlie will know it when he sees it. The price is tempting (ish) - especially after Charlie's literary agent and companion Victoria has worked her magic - and he isn't the kind of man to turn down a challenge.
So Charlie sets out to do what he does best and breaks into the first apartment in the city's swish Tiergarten district. The search proves fruitless. Worse than fruitless in fact, as Charlie witnesses a woman being murdered in a neighbouring building. Naturally he calls the police, only to see them leave without taking any action. He has no choice but to walk away - for the time being - and move onto the next location.
From this point things really start to heat up, as Charlie finds himself pinballed between the demands of various well connected, but decidedly shady, individuals all determined to get their hands on the still unidentified 'package.' Threats are made, damage is done, and suddenly this isn't just another fun job for Charlie. He is at the centre of a complex web, trying to safely extricate himself and Victoria, who he is finally realising he has feelings for.
Saying anymore wouldn't be fair to the author, or readers, but I loved this book. Successful comedy crime novels are rare things, but The Good Thief's Guide to Berlin - and in fact the series as a whole - hits the perfect balance. They are compelling crime stories, leavened by Charlie's dry humour. They're also pretty good tourist guides. Berlin is beautifully evoked, and Ewan sweeps us around elegant apartment blocks, crumbling Bauhaus monoliths, and rather memorably, a derelict Soviet amusement park. I finished this book desperate to visit the city - especially if the fake guards at Checkpoint Charlie really are male strippers.
If you're only previous experience of Ewan's work is his high-octane thriller, Safe House, you might find the tone of The Good Thief's Guide to Berlin surprising; it's sprightly, witty and erudite, but the piercing eye for character and flawless plotting skills which made Safe House a number one bestseller are at the heart of this book too, resulting in a read which is just as engrossing. Although it is the fifth in the series it works perfectly as standalone and Charlie Howard is such a playfully attractive protagonist that within a few pages you feel fully immersed in his world.
on 29 April 2013
This book was great also. I really admired the character despite him being a thief! The thief really endears himself to the reader. You sympathise with his arthritic right hand and worry about him getting caught, Bring them on!
on 27 February 2013
Ewan's fifth outing in the Good Thief's series sees Charlie Howard, gentleman thief with half a conscience and a half written novel, holed up in Germany with his best friend (and literary agent) Victoria. Over a game of ping pong Charlie is approached by an English gentleman with a tempting offer (the terms deftly negotiated by Victoria): break into four buildings in one night to retrieve an unspecified item. `You'll know it when you see it'.
What follows are the usual twists and turns that we now expect from Ewan. The plotting is water tight and the dialogue snappy. Ewan's talents in these areas grow with each book. The location is again a major character, and, through Charlie's outsider status, we get introduced to the main tourist spots and some of the less well known sites. Again, everything we expect. My only grumble is that Victoria didn't have much to do, save to play a cross between the traditional `heroine / side kick' role.
This, however, is not merely a re-tread over the same formulaic ground. The series has moved on. Significantly, while the humour is still present, it was downplayed. And for me, it felt subtly more darker in tone, as evidenced in the dénouement. Charlie spends more time questioning his life choices. He appears more conflicted. Dare I say it more grown-up? Is the fraying and decaying copy of The Maltese Falcon a metaphor for Charlie? Perhaps it's a hint for where the series is heading?
Ewan also writes successful standalone thrillers. However, I hope he continues to bring us TGTGT stories as each instalment in the series offers something new. A fantastic read at a bargain price.
on 14 July 2013
Started reading Chris's books by accident really but find his writing style and attention to detail compelling and this novel is no exception. Have been reading these Thief novels out of sequence, but it really does not matter much, if anything it adds to the suspense of the main characters.
Berlin, like Venice is both a gripping story and an incite into the personal lives if the main characters and it really works. So all I can say is please download and read.
This is the latest addition to the thief series, but please Chris, start on the next soon.
on 23 March 2013
These novels don't perhaps have the most inviting of titles, i thought at first they were travel guides.
But they are great, fun fast paced thriller novels without being too deep or disturbing. Have read the whole series and enjoyed them all. I also liked the descriptive passages about each of the cities the novels are set in, they were evocative of time and place and I found it easy to imagine myself there with the characters.
on 5 April 2013
A nicely written, entertaining, interesting book. I preferred this one to it's predecessors. I look forward to the next in this series to see what happens.