Nancy O. Greene calls The Thief Maker “A Fascinating Examination of Human Nature.”
The title of the book is referenced early on when William the would-be Conqueror reflects upon the “days of castles and knights,” and bounty hunters/con men supposedly known in those times as thief takers and thief makers. The novel itself spans many years and 214 pages.
There are many clues in this book to understanding the psychological states of the characters. Take for instance the quote in the beginning, which says that there are the arrogant elite, fatalists, and the fringe groups. This story is about the fringe group. All of them, even Catherine and Rodames, two psychologists that adopt deaf children as well as one child, Rex, with HIV. They appear to be the perfect “elite” couple, caring and interested in healing the wounds of the world but they unfortunately are no different from the rest of the characters in the story—often angry at themselves and others, uncertain of their own motives and true emotions until it’s too late. They try hide all of this and suffer just like the rest of the players.
On the surface The Thief Maker is a mystery revolving around con man William Donovan. But it’s more than that—it is also an examination of the events and mental attributes that shape the lives of these characters. The major events that most people are aware of—such as 9/11, which plays a role in the book—and the all too common murders and everyday cons that go unreported in the newspapers and unnoticed by the public in general. The lives of the characters in this book are completely messed up when 9/11 occurs and that doesn’t change much afterwards. Some of the players are impacted by the terrorist attack more than others, but only as it relates to the already in-motion circumstances of their existences. Frequently they are not “masters of their destinies,” or aware of more than their own small worlds, even when they believe they are.
The author uses an interesting metaphor—E. Wisdom Foster’s photography collection titled Shadows and Dust: A Portrait of the living Earth in Four Seasons—to introduce the various sections of the book and this is wholly appropriate. These lives are indeed revolving, going through frightening, beautiful, and unstoppable changes that color the characters’ moods and actions in ways that they are at times oblivious to. And in the end at least some of them amount to little more than shadows and dust, unfulfilled and ultimately (almost) insignificant because of their own actions or lack thereof.
Felcie Morrison is a cold, calculating, and tormented woman that puts into motion events that damage those she claims to love–all without much care for herself or seemingly anyone else. William is just as confused about himself, though he clings to the idea of being a predator, a con man, in order to escape his own feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy. Alice is something of a mystery, at times coy and innocent but also possessing a darker side that she seems to be more aware of than her counterparts are aware of their vulnerability. Frank Morrison and Marcus are presented initially as observers, brought into the drama through their professions, and they too have their somewhat hidden, yet inescapable parts. There are other characters that are introduced throughout the story, to play their parts, exit, and return as necessary to complete the web in which they are all entangled.
And in the middle there is Rex, so much like young William at the beginning of the novel, trying to figure out the events as they play out and his own role within it all. Perhaps how his circumstance plays out is central to the theme of the story, as he is just a child unable to act on his own life without being tied to the adults that are involved in it.
The story itself is very good as an entertaining mystery as well as an in-depth look into those that interact with the real world but separate from it as well, consumed by their own universes. There are times when the book moves along too slowly, where it could be tighter and the writing could be less clunky. But these spots are far between and are easy enough to get through. Also, at times, the characters come across as stereotypes—weak or unaffectionate women, brutish or love-deprived macho men—but as the story develops this matters little as the stereotypes fill out and the characters become real within the life of the novel. The Pulp Fiction out-of-sequence style of writing fits for this particular tale; a linear style would not do justice to symbolically display the characters’ confused, messed up emotional states and lives. Overall, it is a well-written, inventive story that strikes at the heart of what it means for some people to love, hate, be indifferent and get carried along in global as well as personal events.
Ready to meet your Maker? Steal a copy of The Thief Maker…
The reviewer, Nancy O. Greene, is the the author of Portraits in the Dark and the moderator of the Writers’ Block: