Saturday, March 20, 2010
Cat Burglar Black. Richard Sala. First Second (2009)
Richard Sala has created a wonderful adventure story with a clever and resourceful teenage heroine,thoroughly unpleasant villains, a dramatic plot and the confident skill to bring it all together. Katherine Westree, she prefers to be called K.,was trained to be a cat burglar by the head of the orphanage she was sent to after the death of her parents. The criminal activities were uncovered and K sent to a reformatory. K had been invited to the Bellsong Academy for Girls by her aunt, whom she had never heard of before. At Bellsong K finds that she is again involved in crime, this time at the behest of "The Obtainers" a group her father had belonged to. The plot concerns stealing the clues to a great treasure hidden somewhere in the grounds. The plot uncoils at a great pace, the action is first rate and the conclusion deeply satisfying.
K is a very engaging heroine, she has a good heart, amazing acrobatic skills and courage. In spite of the suspicions of the other three students at Bellsong she is concerned for them and knows less than they assume. The Obtainers, the gang who are running Bellsong are great villains, they are determined and deadly and quite willing to risk the lives of the girls to get what they want. The mix of family mystery into the story fits very nicely and gives K's situation an extra edge.
What is very noticeable in this story is the confidence with which Richard Sala tells it. He takes classic elements of teenage adventure stories and uses them with great skill and panache. There is nothing very novel in the story, Richard Sala is sure of his relationship with the reader and feels free to concentrate of ensuring that the story works as it should. This confidence by the author allows the reader to sink pleasureably into the story and to be swept along by it, enjoying the twists and turns, the danger of the burglary and the callousness of the villains.
Richard Sala's very distinctive art is a major asset to the book, the grim angular faces of his villains add depth to the story and the the teenage girls look and move like teenage girls. Smart, sharp adventure stories like this are to be cherished for the pure thrill they deliver.