The Good Thief

The Good Thief


Hannah TINTI




Winner of the 2008 John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize * A Washington Post Best Book of 2008 * A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2008

Richly imagined and gothically spooky, The Good Thief introduces one of the most appealing young heroes in contemporary fiction and ratifies Hannah Tinti as one of our most exciting talents writing today.

Twelve year-old Ren is missing his left hand. How it was lost is a mystery that Ren has been trying to solve for his entire life, as well as who his parents are, and why he was abandoned as an infant at Saint Anthony’s Orphanage for boys. When a young man named Benjamin Nab appears, claiming to be Ren’s long-lost brother, his convincing tale of how Ren lost his hand persuades the monks at the orphanage to release the boy and to give Ren some hope. But is Benjamin really who he says he is? As Ren is introduced to a life of hardscrabble adventure filled with outrageous scam artists, grave robbers, and petty thieves, he begins to suspect that Benjamin not only holds the key to his future, but to his past as well….


Hannah Tinti’s work has appeared in magazines and anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2003. Her short-story collection, Animal Crackers, has been sold in fifteen countries, and was a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Award. She is the editor of One Story magazine.


This striking debut novel is an homage to old-fashioned boys-own adventure stories, and unfolds like a Robert Louis Stevenson tale retold amid the hardscrabble squalor of Colonial New England. The sheer strangeness of the story is beguiling: a one-handed boy, tainted by his upbringing in a Catholic orphanage and with little to offer but a head full of lice, is adopted by a con artist, and enters an underworld of ruthless mousetrap-manufacturing barons, feisty chimney-dwelling dwarves, and, perhaps most terrifying of all, black-market dentists. In keeping with the gothic tradition, Tinti writes with an arch, almost camp sensibility. While on a nocturnal grave-digging excursion to procure bodies for a crazy scientist, for instance, the pair encounter an assassin, who tells the twelve-year-old hero that he was made for killing. Will the boy ever discover the truth of his past? Its good fun watching him find out.

Boasting a macabre setting, a fantastic adventure into the underworld of 19th-century New England, and a cast of characters Charles Dickens himself would be proud to claim, The Good Thief is an engaging tale from start to finish. With Ren essentially an “Oliver Twist at heart,” readers will find themselves sympathetic even as he finds himself entangled with an odd assortment of villains. Known previously for her collection of short stories, Hannah Tinti has created a magical debut novel that is simultaneously humorous, uplifting, and “darkly transporting” (New York Times). And with this compelling work, concludes Entertainment Weekly, she “secures her place as one of the sharpest, slyest young American novelists.”

Ren doesn’t know how he lost his hand, who his parents are, or how he arrived at St. Anthony’s, a prisonlike orphanage. Certain that no one will ever adopt him, he takes secret revenge on those who beat and torment him by stealing. Then Benjamin Nab appears, claiming Ren as his long-lost younger brother. Off they go, and Ren, a marvelously plucky narrator, is ecstatic. But his savior turns out to be a con man given to diabolical and grotesque endeavors. It’s a ghoulish and violent world right out of the most nihilistic fairy tales, with shades of Dickens and Deadwood. Set in a decimated nineteenth-century New England town ruled by the owner of a mousetrap factory, Tinti’s shivery tale features an otherworldly cast of characters. Each is caught in a snare of some sort and must figure out how to get free. Tinti revealed her macabre sensibility in her story collection, Animal Crackers (2004). In her highly original debut novel, she renders the horrors and wonders she concocts utterly believable and rich in implication as she creates a darkly comedic and bewitching, sinister yet life-affirming tale about the eternal battle between good and evil. –Donna Seaman

The Good Thief‘s characters are weird and wonderful…. [It] has all the makings of a classic—a hero, a villain and a rollicking good tale set in 19th century New England about a good boy who gets mixed up with a lot of bad men…. All of that, along with its humor, ingenuity and fast pace, make The Good Thief compelling.”—San Francisco Chronicle

The Good Thief is a dark, Dickensian fable filled with enough surprises to keep a reader turning pages long past midnight. Irresistibly strange, and just plain irresistible.”—Karl Iagnemma


I do have mixed feelings about this book, probably because it took me way out of my comfort zone.

If you read the above reviews, you have a good idea of all the horrific, dark, and spooky elements present in the book, and they did not even mention that one of the character was actually found buried alive, when the others opened tombs to find teeth for the black market… If you are used to that type of stuff, you may actually consider it too funny, such as for instance the dwarf living on a roof and coming down through the chimney every night to eat his diner prepared by his sister.

And yet at the same time, it IS extremely well written and irresistible. You know you are going towards more spooky stuff, but it’s really hard to break the spell.

Maybe because at the same time, there is a part of goodness in each characters, and not only in the kid Ren, the main hero, and that makes the whole very human in fact.  Plus, there’s the suspense element : you want to know more about Ren’s history, what happened to his hand and to his family.

That’s probably all of gothic literature I’ll try, but I’m glad I did with this book.

“The man arrived after morning prayers.”

“His fingers reaching out, closing in, then missing, missing, missing, missing.”





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