Alissa Johnson


A Talent for Trickery (2015), A Gift for Guile (2016)


A Talent for Trickery (2015)

A-Talent-for-TrickerySet in England in 1872

I somehow missed writing this one up last month, so here it is now.

I am not sure about the accuracy of the term “Gentleman Thief Taker” since the thief-takers were replaced by Bow Street in the mid 1700s, and Bow Street was absorbed into the Metropolitan Police by 1839. Would someone really have dredged up a term over 200 years old to describe the hero?

Regardless, that is pretty much the only qualm I have about the story, and it’s a minor quibble, since this is fiction.

Owen, Lord Renderwell received his title for rescuing a kidnapped Duchess, except that he had been working with the notorious thief, Walker, and it was Walker who had done the actual rescuing.

Walker is a man of morals, who works for the crown and does what he believes to be right according to his ethics.

I quite liked him.

Owen recognized his incongruent feelings as the same he’d experienced at age nine, when his sister Eliza had convinced him it would be great fun to hurl a stone at a wasp’s nest. It was the delicious thrill that came from succumbing to the allure of a very bad idea.

Charlotte (Walker) Bales has been keeping her family together since her father’s death forced them to change their name and relocate to the countryside. Charlotte and her sister Esther have done everything they could to protect their brother Peter, who had been only four when their father died, from his legacy. So the appearance of Owen and his men threaten to spill all their secrets.

“God help us, he is the fattest of pigeons. A nearly perfect mark— well-heeled, trusting, and too proud and forgiving to make a fuss when he discovers the knife in his back.”

“Peter is not stupid. Nor is he an angel.”

“Not at all. Lord knows, there’s no one less pleasant to be around than Peter in a temper. But his general nature is one of generosity. He loves without reservation. If you tell him the truth now, when he falls madly in love with some little twit at sixteen, he won’t be able to stop himself from sharing every single secret in that enormous heart of his. And then it’ll be blackmail and threats. Men and women pounding on our doors demanding the money father stole from them.”

I also really liked Charlotte, who had very complicated feelings about both Owen and her father.

Though she deeply resented the work her father had done, she didn’t resent her memories of him.

But what I liked best about the story was the theme of redemption.

He had given no thought to the possibility of redemption for her father, no credit to the notion a person might change for the better. Will Walker had been a black-hearted scoundrel and, really, what else was there to say?

Charlotte desperately wants to the redemption of her father, but fears that she does not deserve the same, for the work she did for her father.

And that father was complex and fascinating–I liked the slow unveiling of his actions and character and how he may have loved his children, but that didn’t stop him from using Charlotte.

He took hold of her hand gently and turned it over to study the wrist. His thumb caressed the palm of her hand. “Has this happened before?”

“Manacles? Yes, but—”

“No, not manac—” His head snapped up. “Wait. Yes? Yes? Who the hell put you in manacles?”

“My father. He felt it was important I know how to get out of them.

The unfolding story and history were also fascinating, as the characters discovered the various things they had kept hidden from each other.

It was a pleasant read, and I look forward to the next book.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca

A Gift for Guile (2016)

A-Gift-for-GuileSet in London in 1872

This is the second book in the Thief-Takers series, and follows the second sister, Esther, and the private investigator, Samuel Brass.

Esther has sneaked into London, and is caught at underground by the Samuel Brass, who ruins the meeting she was getting ready to have.

Samuel Brass sees it as his personal mission to keep Esther safe, because, he tells himself, she is the sister of the wife of one of his best friends.

“Anyone who goes into places like Spitalfields when they have a choice otherwise is an idiot.”

“That is unfair. There are decent, honest, hardworking people who live there.”

“A great many. But their combined innocence does not render the cutthroats less vicious.

One of the things I particularly like about this story is how sensible Esther is, and how it always takes Samuel (and the reader, to be honest) aback when she is reasonable and sensible.

She set the book aside and frowned at him thoughtfully. “Out of curiosity, why haven’t you stationed guards outside my door?”

“Do you think you need them?” She shook her head.

“Do you?” It wasn’t so much that she needed them as that he wanted them for his own peace of mind.

She shrugged when he didn’t immediately answer. “I wouldn’t make a fuss over it.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“If it would make you feel… I don’t know”— she began to wave one hand around as she searched for the right words—“ like a properly responsible gentleman, seeing to the safety of the helpless lady”— she waved her hand some more—“ or what have you, then, by all means, hire a guard or two.”

But that’s not the only reason I like Esther. I like her because she has struggled in the past, but is slowly becoming, as she puts it, more.

No one person’s good opinion should mean so much that another person should feel compelled to change who they are to obtain it.”

She ignored the voice, long since accustomed to the fear that she wasn’t really wanted, wasn’t quite good enough for anyone. That fear had been at the heart of her determination to work with her father and her terrible need to seek out the approval of others. She’d been so desperate to prove the nasty little voice wrong.

But, it’s also a fun little romp.

Samuel and Esther stepped closer to investigate the admittedly rather large, but definitely very dead, rodent.

Samuel glanced over his shoulder. “You screamed because of a dead rat?” The girl was a Londoner. This couldn’t possibly be the first one she’d come across.

She wrinkled her nose in distaste. “I stepped on it a bit. In me bare feet.”

Next to him, Esther gave a little shudder. “Ew.”

“Aye, mum.”

These are just fun stories, even if they do have boinking.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca