Crookhaven: The School for Thieves – J.J. Arcanjo

Illustrations – Euan Cook

‘Alone you can become exceptional; together you can become unstoppable.’

The only thing Gabriel Avery’s parents left when they abandoned him was a 2p coin. Gabe lives with his Grandma, using his pickpocketing skills to put sandwiches on the table (bacon for Gabe and charred sausage for Grandma). Although he’s done well to stay under the radar, his thieving abilities have recently been noticed.

‘As I live and thieve!’

Rather than spending some time behind bars, Gabe has been offered a place at a most “disreputable establishment”, Crookhaven, a boarding school for “wrongdoers, swindlers and thieves”. There he will study subjects that will mould him into a criminal all-rounder: forgery, crimnastics, picking locks, hacking and deception.

The three principles students learn at Crookhaven are:

Lie. But never lie to yourself.

Cheat. But never cheat your friends.

Steal. But never steal from those in need.

Each student comes to Crookhaven with their own set of skills and there is some division between those who gain entry as Merits and the Legacies, but the students all have something in common. They’re “the outcasts, the misunderstood, the reviled”. I’m a sucker for stories featuring outcasts.

Besides the comfort of knowing he doesn’t have to scheme and steal to put food in his belly, Crookhaven offers Gabe another first, the opportunity to make friends. The found family aspect of this book was one of my favourite takeaways.

There’s Penelope, who can’t abide rule breaking. She speaks five languages fluently and understands another two. I adored her spikiness and attitude.

Ade and Ede are twin white hats, known in the hacking community as the Brothers Crim. The only time they’re in sync is when they’re hacking, so part of their role is comic relief.

Then there’s the Blur, Amira. Other than Penelope, she’s the one I most want to spend more time with.

The first in a series, this book introduces you to Gabe’s world, as well as the beloved and new people in his life. You’ll crave bacon sandwiches as you scheme along with Gabe as he navigates his new surroundings.

So I don’t forget by the time I read the sequel, I made a list of the various Crookhaven teachers:

  • Caspian Crook teaches Tech-nique
  • Friedrich teaches Crimnastics
  • Miss Jericho teaches History of Crookery
  • Mr Khan teaches Deception
  • Ms Locket teaches Infiltration
  • Palombo teaches Forgery
  • Mr Sisman teaches Cultivating a Crook
  • Mr Velasquez teaches Tricks of the Trade
  • Whisper teaches Hacking.

Crookhaven’s co-Headmasters are Caspian Crook and Whisper.

This book hooked me. I love the characters. I love the setting. I love the fact that it takes outcasts and gives them somewhere to belong, all the while playing to their strengths.

You’d think a book about crooks would be chock full of nefarious characters fighting dirty to be the biggest Big Bad. The focus, though, is learning skills to do good in the world.

‘Crookhaven: we do wrong to put the world right.’

That’s not to say that there aren’t any morally grey characters or baddies being dastardly.

This book is an entertaining mix of action, mystery, drama and humour. Adult me loved it. Kid me would have loved it. I can’t imagine geriatric me feeling any differently. It’s a winner.

While their role is explored in this book, I’m hoping to get to know some of the Gardeners in future books.

Favourite no context quote:

‘Because it is the outsiders, the forgotten, the ones who’ve always felt like they don’t belong, who end up changing the world.’

Thank you so much to Hachette Australia for the opportunity to read this book. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

“So this is really a school for criminals.” It was meant as a question, though it came out more as an accusation.

“We are so much more than that,” Caspian said, sitting in a plush leather chair and gesturing for Gabriel to sit in a similar one across the table. “We are a home for the forgotten, a sanctuary for the lost and … yes, a training ground for the greatest crooks of the future.”

13-year-old Gabriel is a brilliant pickpocket, a skill which he uses to keep his often empty belly not quite so empty. And then one day, he’s caught.

But instead of being arrested, he is invited by the mysterious Caspian Crook to attend Crookhaven – a school for thieves. At Crookhaven, students are trained in lock-picking, forgery and ‘crim-nastics’, all with the intention of doing good out in the world, by conning the bad and giving back to the innocent.

But … can you ever really trust a thief?

With a school wide competition to be crowned Top Crook and many mysteries to uncover, Gabriel’s first year at Crookhaven will be one to remember…