The whiz mob and the grenadine kid by Colin Meloy
Ill. by Carson Ellis. Penguin, 2017. ISBN 9780143787860
(Age: 10+) The Whiz Mob and the Grenadine Kid is the complex and excessively detailed story of a secret gang of child and teenage pickpockets who target the tourists and rich people of Marseille in the early 1960s. A Dickensian narrative, with a large cast of interesting characters, set in a time when children could explore a city with adult supervision with extensive information about living outside of the law. Twelve year old Charlie Fisher son of an American diplomat and abandoned by his mother, brokers a deal with his tutor to freely explore this French city and record his short stories of people passing by in his notebook.
Charlie observes the elaborate and smooth moves of the young pickpockets operating in the market place and is drawn into their intriguing world, after Amir steals Charlie's silver fountain pen. He becomes intrigued and joins with the 'whiz mob' a multicultural band of young people who train and then practice the art of thievery, stealing jewellery, wallets and personal items. Their actions portrayed as adventurous, challenging and exciting rather than operating on the wrong side of the law. His acceptance into the mob and his intense training at home and his commitment to robbing the public drives the story.
After weeks of this heightened level of excitement and dangerous activity, his friend Amir tells Charlie to quit the whiz mob and hey have a falling out. Amir leaves and Charlie is set up to undertake the biggest con of all, at a high society ball amongst diplomats and royalty. Charlie comes to realize what the mob's long con has been and the part he plays. Charlie and Amir undertake an intrepid journey to Bogota Colombia the headquarters where young thieves are trained. They travel without passport or currency relying on their wits and skills determined to right the wrongs that happened at the ball.
Meloy's writing style includes cynical asides to the reader and copious descriptions of pickpocketing skills complete with technical language. Carson Ellis's black and white full page sketches bring the characters to life, showcasing the whiz mob, their skills and their targets. The reader needs commitment to the reading challenge of this lengthy story, set in a time where children can travel the world, engage in underworld activities and roam free without parental authority.