How to Lead a Life of Crime


Author: Kirsten Miller

Publication: 2013, Razor Bill

Pages: 434

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_25_zps13f4f4eb[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Flick is a teenage pickpocket recruited by the world famous Mandel Academy.  It’s a school with a reputation for taking the most needy children off the streets and transforming them into world leaders.  But behind closed doors, the Mandel Academy is something else entirely.  They train their students to become world class criminals, with courses ranging from assassination techniques to human trafficking and credit card fraud.  And at Mandel, only the smartest and strongest survive.  Those too weak to make it simply disappear.  But Flick is no ordinary recruit.  He’s been brought in as part of an experiment to change the future of the school, and the headmaster will push him to succeed at any cost.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: It’s a complex story and I like how Flick’s goals continue to change and evolve as the circumstances around him shift.  The book seems to take place in stages, each one representing a change in Flick’s agenda as he grows and is required to face new challenges and new situations.  It’s not that Flick doesn’t cling to the past – he does, almost obsessively so – but he’s also able to recognize reality.  He enters Mandel Academy with the sole goal of gathering evidence on his estranged father.  Over time, that goals shifts to destroying the Academy itself, and then again to protecting a fellow student.  The constant changes in his agenda, and the shifting cast of characters around him, keep the story fresh and exciting.

What I Liked the Least: Two things.  First, Flick feels a little too good to be real, especially for the first three quarters or so of the book.  He’s too smart, too good a fighter.  He’s up against some very serious odds, so it’s not that his skills made him feel invulnerable.  It’s more that I found it hard to believe anyone could be quite that talented.  He dominates the other students – at a school filled with power-hungry predators – just a little too easily to feel entirely real.

The second problem was with the school itself.  The Mandel Academy may have excellent lawyers and go to great lengths to hide their roster of current students.  But they also have copies of their course catalog lying around the school – filled with classes on everything from Blackmail to Industrial Espionage.  They’re supposedly the most famous school in the country, and it seems unlikely that a school with that kind of reputation could really hide it’s true nature for more than a century regardless of how powerful its alumni might turn out to be.  If Miller had made the school less prominent and more secretive I would have been more likely to believe the story.  But she plays up the school’s reputation so much it’s hard to swallow that no one from the outside has ever really questioned what goes on behind the Academy’s doors.

How Good was the Action? It’s okay, but it’s important to understand that, while there is action here, this is not primarily an action story.  This is a story about character, intrigue, political machinations, secret plots, lies, and murder.  There’s plenty to keep you plowing through the pages.  But don’t expect a huge amount of action.  And while there are several fights scattered throughout, they were too brief and clinical to really draw me in.

How Engaging was the Story? Miller has created a first rate cast of characters.  While I did find it hard to keep track of all the supporting players, the major ones stood out for being wildly unique.  And their intricate plots – whether it’s to become one of the tops students and graduate, to forever shift the future direction of the Academy, or to bring it crashing down – will easily spin enough webs to keep you wanting more.  

Overall Assessment:  A fun, if slightly deranged read filled with psychopaths, charlatans, killers, lost boys, and would be saints.

Profanity: Minimal. Miller clearly wants to use profanity and realizes that, given her characters, it would be unnatural not to.  But she also doesn’t want to turn away readers.  So instead, every potential swear is written only as “F___.”  It doesn’t happen a lot, but often enough to be annoying.

Sex: Yes.  We don’t really see it, there’s nothing remotely graphic, but we know it’s happening.  Over the course of the story Flick has sex with two different girls.  We also learn how some of the boys and girls survived as prostitutes before coming to the Academy, and how they are sent out on missions to have sex with important people the Academy want to blackmail.  Again, nothing too graphic, but we know what’s going on.

Violence: Yes.  There’s violence here.  The fights can get a bit bloody and people do die.  We watch someone having their wrists slashed and hear second hand report about a boy whose head was cut off.  And we see dismembered corpses in a morgue, though with little graphic detail.

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