Charlie Howard travels the globe writing suspense novels for a living, about an intrepid burglar named Faulks. To supplement his income---and to keep his hand in---Charlie also has a small side business: stealing for a very discreet clientele on commission.
When a mysterious American offers to pay Charlie 20,000 euros if he steals two small monkey figurines to match the one he already has, Charlie is suspicious; he doesn't know how the American found him, and the job seems too good to be true. And, of course, it is. Although the burglary goes off without a hitch, when he goes to deliver the monkeys he finds that the American has been beaten to near-death, and that the third figurine is missing.
Back in London, his long-suffering literary agent, Victoria (who is naive enough to believe he actually looks like his jacket photo), tries to talk him through the plot problems in both his latest manuscript and his real life---but Charlie soon finds himself caught up in a caper reminiscent of a Cary Grant movie, involving safe-deposit boxes, menacing characters, and, of course, a beautiful damsel in distress.
Publishers Weekly called Chris Ewan's The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam one of the "best books for grownups."
About the Author
CHRIS EWAN is a lawyer on the Isle of Man. His first novel, The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, was hailed as one of the best "books for grownups" by the editors of Publishers Weekly and AARP The Magazine.
Chris Ewan, who lives on the Isle of Man, began his crime-writing career with The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, which was called one the "best books for grownups" by Publishers Weekly and AARP The Magazine, and one of the best thrillers of the year by the London Times. The Huffington Post also named Ewan one of America's favorite British authors in a readers' poll. He is the author of the Good Thief novels and the stand-alone thriller, Safe House.
Read an Excerpt
The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam
By Chris Ewan
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Chris Ewan
All rights reserved.
"I want you to steal something for me."
It wasn't the first time I'd heard those words, though usually the person saying them liked to warm up to it first. Not the American. He got straight to the point, casual as you like. If I was a lesser writer, I'd tell you it set alarm bells ringing inside my head or that a chill ran down my spine. In truth, it just made me listen a little harder.
"You've made a mistake," I told him. "I'm a writer, not a burglar."
"Some writer. I've been following your work. You're good."
I smiled. "A hack with a pricey education, nothing more."
"Oh sure, as a writer. But as a thief, now that's a different story. You've got talent, kid, and that ain't easy to find around here."
Around here was Amsterdam. To be exact, around here was a dim-lit brown bar on a northern stretch of the Keizersgracht canal, a twenty minute stroll or a ten minute bicycle ride from my apartment. It was a cramped space, warmed more by the closeness of the walls than the fading embers in the fire across from our table. I'd been here before, though only in passing, and the name had meant nothing to me when the American suggested it as a meeting point. Now here I was again, a glass of Dutch beer in front of me and a tricky proposition beyond that.
The American had contacted me through my website. Most suspense writers have a website nowadays and you can go there to find all kinds of information about me and my writing. There's a page for each of the burglar books I've written to date and a News section with details of any readings I'm involved in, as well as some personal stuff my fans might care to know, such as where I happen to be living while I'm writing my latest novel. There's also a link that allows readers to e-mail me and that was how the American had been in touch.
A job for you, he'd written. Name your price. Hear me out at Café de Brug. 10pm Thursday (tomorrow).
I had no idea who the American was, of course, and far less reason to trust him, but then again, the lure of a new job was something I'd long since given up trying to fight. Because the truth, in case you haven't already guessed, is that I don't just write books about a career thief - I also happen to be one.
"This talent you're referring to," I said. "Supposing it did exist."
"Supposing, I like that."
"Well, just supposing, then, that I really do have this talent - I'm curious how you'd like me to use it."
The American checked over my shoulder, towards the doorway, then over his own shoulder, towards the rear of the bar. When he was satisfied that his neck worked just fine and that nobody was eavesdropping on our conversation, he reached inside the front pouch of his windbreaker and removed a small object that he placed on the wooden table before me. The object, it turned out, was a monkey figurine, about the size of my thumb. The monkey was sat on his haunches, knees up around his chest, with his front paws covering his eyes and his mouth wide open, as if in shock at whatever it was he'd just seen inside the windbreaker.
"See no evil," I said, half to myself, and the American nodded and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
I picked up the monkey for a closer look. From the weight and the dry, gritty feel of it, I could tell the figurine had been rendered in plaster of Paris, which went some way to explaining why the finish was not very precise. The look of astonishment I'd read on the monkey's mouth could just as easily have been intended to show fear or even dumb joy by its maker. All things considered, it was hard to imagine it was worth more than a handful of pounds, or even dollars or euros for that matter.
"There are two more of these monkeys," the American said, not altogether surprising me. "One covering his ears, the other covering his mouth."
"You don't say."
"I want you to steal them."
I tilted my head to one side. "Supposing I could ... obtain them for you. I'm not sure it would be worth my while."
The American leaned towards me and cocked an eyebrow. "How much to make it worth your while?"
I thought about a figure, then doubled it.
"Ten thousand euros."
"You want it tonight?"
I laughed. "But this is worthless," I said, tossing the figurine back to the American, who scrambled to catch it before it struck the table.
"Not to me, kid," he told me, carefully dusting the monkey down and then placing it back inside the pouch of his windbreaker. "What do you say?"
"I'll think about it. Another beer?"
I stood and picked up our glasses without waiting for his answer and crossed to the bar, where a not unattractive blonde was filling some finger dishes with cashew nuts. She was tall and lean and tanned in that year-round Scandinavian way that never fails to make me feel impossibly English. You could tell she was used to fools like me hitting on her and when her eyes met my own, it was with a look that was like a ready apology.
"Twee pils astublieft," I managed, meanwhile holding up two fingers just in case the fact I was stood before a beer tap at a bar with two empty beer glasses left her in any doubt as to what I was aiming to buy.
"Of course," she said, in clipped English.
She pushed her hair behind her ear, then took one of the glasses and began to fill it, and meanwhile I tried to think about something other than the freckles on her neck and ended up considering how the American had found out about me instead. It was intriguing, alright, because I was always careful to keep my thieving a secret, and that was one of the reasons I travelled around so much. The only person I talked about that side of my character with at all was back in London and here in Amsterdam I'd carried out just three jobs in the past four months, none of them the type of thefts to draw much attention. True, one of the jobs had been a commission, but the man who'd hired me was a Belgian who passed his instructions through a Parisian fence I happened to trust and it seemed unlikely the Belgian would have told the American about me, given we'd never actually met. So how had the American known to contact me? And why on earth did he want me to steal two worthless figurines?
"Your beers," the blonde said, scraping the froth from the top of the half-pint glasses with a plastic spatula and placing them in front of me.
"That man," I said, indicating the American with a nod of my head. "Has he been in here before?"
"Yes. He is an American."
"Does he come here a lot?"
She pouted. "Many times, I think."
"You know his name?"
"No," she said, shaking her head. "But he is polite, always tipping"
Of course he was. I laid a few extra notes on the table and collected our beers.
The American was in his late fifties, I guessed, though it was hard to gather much else about him. He had a thick head of grey hair, cut in a jagged, youthful style, and he looked relatively fit for his age. The windbreaker suited him, making him appear sporty, like the type of guy who enjoyed sailing in his spare time, and I had it in mind to pay attention to his hands and look for signs of rope chaffing when he pulled me out of my thoughts by saying, "You want to know my name, all you gotta do is ask. It's Michael."
"You don't have to say it so slow."
"I was waiting for your surname."
"Now that could be a long wait. The monkeys," he went on, "are in two locations. It's important to me that you take them both. It's also important that you take them on the same night."
"Two separate locations?"
"That's right. Two places, fifteen minutes apart by foot."
"And these places are private dwellings?"
"Private dwellings," he echoed. "Jeez. One's an apartment and the other's a houseboat, alright? You don't have to worry about alarms and you don't have to worry about being disturbed because the night you do this, both places'll be empty."
"Because the men that live in these two dwellings will be having dinner. Here. With me."
I gave this some thought. I wasn't crazy about what I was hearing.
"Sounds complicated," I said. "Why don't you take the monkeys yourself? I can't imagine they'll be missed."
"For one," he said, hitching an eyebrow, "the guy in the house-boat has a safe and he's kind of guarded about the combination. The other guy, he has an apartment in the Jordaan - it's on the top floor of a five storey building and he happens to have three door locks I know of."
"But no alarms."
"Listen, you can't have an alarm on a houseboat - you get a storm or a barge goes by too fast, the movement of the canal water'll trigger it."
"And the apartment?"
"Like I said, it's on the fifth floor. Way I see it, the guy figures he don't need no alarm."
"These locks ..."
"Won't be a problem for you. Me, I don't have the keys or your talent, which is how come we're having this conversation."
"Something else occurs to me," I said. "Supposing these two men value their figurines in the same way you do, well, what if they go home after your meal and notice the figurines are gone - they'll suspect you."
He shook his head. "They trust me."
"Maybe. But if they do suspect you and they come looking for you, well, you can see how my name is liable to crop up."
"Not from these lips."
"You say. But I don't like it."
"Well try this for size - I don't plan on being any place they can find me. We meet at seven and we'll be done eating by ten - that gives you three hours to do your job, which I figure is pplent of time. The bar here closes at eleven and I have it in mind for you to meet me with the figurines at a half after ten. If all goes to schedule, I'll be out of Amsterdam before midnight. And I ain't coming back."
"You're leaving the Netherlands?"
"Well now, there's no need for you to know that, is there?"
I paused, tried something else.
"The timing's kind of tight. Say I can't get into this safe."
"You'll get in."
"Or I can't find the figurine in the apartment."
"Guy keeps it under his pillow."
I frowned. "He sleeps on it?"
"Sleeps with it for all I care. But you'll find it under his pillow."
I backed away from him and looked about the room. The blonde was wiping down the bar with a damp cloth, her hair dancing around her face. The only other customers were three Dutch men drinking beer at a table near the front door. They were laughing and clapping one another on the back, grinning toothily as if life simply didn't get any better. Behind them, sheet rain blasted against the picture window, blurring the outline of the lighted canal bridge I could see on the other side of the glass. I sighed, and gave it to him straight.
"Listen," I said, "I'm going to have to say no. I don't know how you found me and that's part of the problem. The other thing is you want this done tomorrow night and that's a concern for me. I like to look around a job before I get inside of it and you're not giving me the time I need."
The American laced his hands together on the table and tapped his thumbs against one another.
"Say we double your fee?"
"It's funny," I told him, "that just makes me more nervous. See, I have to think it's vital to you now, for whatever reason, that this thing is done tomorrow night. And the fact you'd pay me twenty thousand makes me think there's twice the risk I'd considered in the first place."
"Risk is a part of it. So's the reward."
"It's still a no."
The American grimaced, shook his head wearily. Then he reached inside the sleeve of his windbreaker and removed a square of paper. He hesitated for a moment, looking me in the eyes once more, before sliding the paper across to me.
"Kid, I'm gonna take a chance. These here are the addresses. I want you to keep them. Say tomorrow night comes around and it gets to seven o'clock and you change your mind."
"That's not going to happen."
"And you're confident about that. But why don't we leave ourselves open to the possibility that you just might reconsider your attitude? This way, you have the details you need and everything's in your control. You make the decision."
I held his gaze, and, fool that I was, reached out and took the piece of paper.
"That's right, kid," he told me. "All I'm asking you to do is think about it."CHAPTER 2
And think about it I did, for most of that night and throughout the following day. I thought about it when I should have been proof reading the manuscript that was sat on my writing desk and I thought about it when I took my lunchtime stroll and then when I went out for a packet of cigarettes around three. And damn if I wasn't still thinking about it when I found myself stood opposite the window of Café de Brug at a quarter after seven later that night.
The American was in there alright, sat at the same table, and he had two men with him. The men were younger than the American and there was a European vibe about the way they dressed, though whether they were Dutch or not I couldn't tell without hearing them speak. They wore matching leather jackets and light denim trousers but physically they were complete opposites. The man with his back to me was heavy-set, with a thick neck and a shaved head whereas his friend was rail-thin, almost ill-looking, with a pinched quality about his face that made it look as if he'd sucked too hard on a cigarette and had forgotten to exhale. Were they the men who lived in the houseboat and the apartment in the Jordaan, and if they were, which was which? I had the thin man pegged as the boat owner, because I couldn't see him making it up and down five flights of stairs each day without a team of medics in support and a troop of cheerleaders up ahead, but the wide man didn't strike me as the type to have enough cash to live in the Jordaan. But then, why judge a book, you might say, because I sure as hell hoped I didn't look any-thing like a burglar.
Hand inside my pocket, I fingered the piece of paper with the two addresses written on it. For a moment, I had it in mind to run through the situation once again, to weigh up the pros and the cons that were confronting me, but really there was no point. I mean, who was I kidding, stood outside the café, pretending I had a decision to make? There was more chance of me turning down a midnight tumble with the blonde bartender than walking away from the job now. So I backed off from the window and crossed over the canal bridge and took a few turns this way and a few that, and before very long I found myself stepping down from the street and onto the painted metal deck of a grand old Dutch barge.
I guess that's something that might surprise some people - that most professional thieves tend to avoid breaking into a place in the middle of the night. Sure, there are less people around then, but if anybody does happen to spot you crouching before a locked door at three in the morning, well, they're going to be pretty suspicious. On the other hand, if you tackle that same lock at, say, half past seven in the evening, you risk being seen by more people but there's also a fair chance they won't be concerned about it. After all, burglars only operate after midnight, right?
As it turned out, this particular burglar didn't have to worry either way. For one thing, it was already dark and there was a raw bite to the wind that was keeping people inside their homes and off the streets but, more to the point, it took me longer to pull my micro screwdriver and set of picks from my pocket than it did to snap back the lazy old cylinder lock on the door to the barge.
I rapped on the door and waited long enough for somebody to answer before opening it fully. There were no stirrings or rumblings or, in fact, noises of any kind, which didn't come as a great surprise because the interior of the barge was in darkness and I knew (or at least thought I knew) that the owner was out for the evening chewing on minute steak. I knocked once more and when I was sure there was nobody at home, I stepped inside, locked the door behind me (for all the good that would do) and flicked on a light switch. I suppose some people might be surprised about that too, but it's just common sense - putting a main light on suggests you have a right to be some place whereas flashing a torch beam around a property is just another needless giveaway.
The interior was large and open-plan, a seventies mishmash of wall-to-wall wooden panelling painted yellow, with a shag-pile brown carpet and orange window curtains. I drew the few curtains that were still open and took a moment to look around. There wasn't a great deal of furniture, just a large bed at the bow end of the boat covered in twisted sheets and discarded clothes, a plastic kitchen table stacked with dirty plates and take-away food containers, and a threadbare couch with sinking cushions that faced a television that dated, at a guess, from the last time the room had been decorated. There was also a good deal of built-in storage around the edge of the room, some of it covered in plaid seating cushions, and a small cubicle that protruded from one wall where I assumed the bathroom was to be found.
Excerpted from The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan. Copyright © 2007 Chris Ewan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Good Thief¿s Guide to Amsterdam Chris Ewan St. Martin¿s, Nov 2007, $23.95 ISBN: 9780312376338 Charles Howard is the successful author of a suspense series starring a suave courageous cat burglar detective, Faulks. However, fiction imitates real life as Charles supplements his income and creative juices by being a successful burglar just like his Faulks is. Howard is currently completing his latest Faulks thriller in Amsterdam when on his web site he receives an enigmatic summons that peaks his interest. He meets with an American who knows the truth about Howard¿s moonlighting extravaganza the American offers him 20,000 Euros to steal two monkey figurines. Reluctantly, as he wonders how his client knows the truth about his nocturnal activities, he carries out the assignment. However, when he returns to deliver the items, he finds his client almost dead from a vicious assault and the matching third figurine missing. As the Dutch police investigate the beating with Howard as a suspect, he makes inquiries that link back to a diamond robbery over ten years ago while his London based editor suggests plot changes, not realizing her recommendations might be tested in real life not a novel. --- THE GOOD THIEF¿S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM is a humorous crime caper that pays homage to the classic To Catch a Thief, but does so in a lighthearted satirical tongue in cheek way. Charles is a unique impish rogue who finds himself in a dangerous encounter with a killer. The subplot involving his editor is creative and amusing as she offers advice to make his latest story line seem plausible and genuine, but not understanding that the escapade is real. Readers will enjoy this fine look at Amsterdam through the eyes of a cat burglarizing author struggling to keep his nine lives in tact. --- Harriet Klausner
Loved this book! Very edgy writing style. A really enjoyable read. Not your usual mystery at all.
I found the main character more interesting than the mystery. The writing was amusing and the main character is extremely funny on occasion. My main criticism was that the ending is a little bit convoluted as well as predictable (isn't that a combination!) and I found the "Rich People Are Evil Incarnate" theme to be a little tiresome. But on the whole it was an entertaining read. The author captures the feel of Amsterdam perfectly and gives his secondary characters more than a cursory, "amalgamated European" spin. I look forward to reading the next installment to see if the author's plotting ability has gotten a little tighter.
In Amsterdam, Charlie Howard, a British mystery writer who moonlights as a thief, is asked by an American to steal two small plaster monkey figurines from his associates. When he does, all chaos ensues, and Charlie is caught up in a big mystery.A good light read, at times I laughed out loud at Charlie's dry wit. Charlie is a fascinating hero, and the story contains some interesting tidbits about how thieves work. The mystery itself leaves something to be desired; it doesn't really come together smoothly so a reader can watch the process. I will read the second book in the series if I'm out of other reading material, but don't feel complelled to pick it up immediately as I do in my favorite mystery series.
Professional thief, Charlie Howard, is asked to steal two monkey figurines one night in Amsterdam. Unwilling, he takes the case. But once he steals them the requester is found beaten near death and Charlie moves to the top of the suspect list. And, what's so special about these figurines that someone would attempt murder for them?This is first in the Good Thief Guide series. It's a good beginning to a series. The plot is well developed and the main character is well enough developed that he is also a writer. There is a small amount of background about Charlie that can be fleshed out later. Some supporting characters make enough of a debut to return later, his publisher, a fellow thief/fence, a romantic interest, etc. It's light and funny and not too complicated.
Very well written, intricate plot and all the Dutch names and locations on the spot, without the strange names you almost always see in non-dutch writers.
This is a story about Charlie Howard, a writer of novels about a thief. And in reality Charlie is a thief as well. In this book, Charlie finds himself in Amsterdam trying to finish his most recent novel. He gets caught up in the midst of a killing and a robbery. I really enjoyed the twists and turns of the story and the way the author builds on each of the characters. Looking forward to reading another Charlie Howard caper soon.
I thought it was fun and fast moving. I liked the characters and look forward to more novels.
Interesting. Learned a bit about Amsterdam and the writing process. Not a favorite by any means
Thief, writer, Amstersdam scenery...all in all this book is a good caper that always keeps up the level of interest that makes me want to stay up late. I'm looking for this writer's next book!