Title: Two Crafty Criminals! and How They Were Captured by the Daring Detectives of the New Cut Gang
Author: Philip Pullman
Genre: middle grade, mystery
Pages: 288 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: May 8, 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Benny Kaminsky and Thunderbolt Dobney lead a rag-tag gang of neighborhood rowdies. Their territory is the New Cut on London's South Bank—a place bristling with swindlers, bookies, pickpockets, and the occasional policeman. And their aim is to solve crimes.
When counterfeit coins start showing up in their neighborhood, Thunderbolt fears his own father may be behind the crime. But his friends devise a way to trap the real culprit. Then the gang takes on the case of some stolen silver. They have just two clues—a blob of wax, and an unusually long match. But even this slippery thief is unmasked by the determined kids of the New Cut.
The kids of the New Cut Gang live in that charmed and whimsical world children inhabit until the crush of adulthood and responsibility; adults fall in line with their demands and nothing is impossible for the likes of Benny, Thunderbolt, Bridie and Sharky Boy - not even uncovering dastardly criminals or even meeting the Prince of Wales. Philip Pullman's latest publication might not stand level with the likes of the His Dark Materials trilogy but Two Crafty Criminals will certainly make for a diverting and thoroughly charming entertainment for middle-grade children it is aimed at.
Two Crafty Criminals is not one novel but rather is a book containing of two entirely different stories set within the New Cut Gang - a constantly shifting alliance of meddlesome and cheeky pre-teens in Victorian London. While both stories are big on fun and short on filler, the first, Thunderbolt's Waxwork, definitely had the advantage of being first and thus, the more original of the two. With characters like the charismatic Benny running the show and the Gang, earnest and kind Thunderbolt, and strict Bridie managing the scene-stealer Sharky Boy, Pullman eases the reader into a light-hearted but clever mystery set in 1894. Benny, especially, he of the big dreams and even bigger schemes, seems drawn entirely from the period pictured ("Foller him everywhere, like a shadder..") but all the kids shown in both are different, with easy to identify personalities (especially the twins! And Sharky Boy). The Gas Fitter's Ball, the second of the two, retains the humor and cheek of the first without sacrificing ingenuity or an entirely new mystery for the Gang to "detect".