By Hannah Tinti
336 pages; Dial
A 21st-century novel in 19th-century drag, Hannah Tinti's The Good Thief (Dial) has a maimed, lonely orphan, a confidence man with a redemptive grin, a Dickensian gallery of shysters and thugs—a recipe for pseudo-Victorian gruel. But Tinti, like John Barth with his postmodern picaresque classic, The Sot-Weed Factor, has created one of the freshest, most beguiling narratives this side of Oliver Twist. Her prepubescent hero is Ren, abandoned as an infant (the loss of one of his hands is only the first of many mysterious losses) and raised in a ratty monastery orphanage. His "rescuer" is Benjamin Nab, an artful dodger with a gift for spinning lies. With Ren as accomplice and a repertoire of alarms and diversions, Nab cheats and grave-robs his way through the farms and towns of New England; yet the reader senses some untold story, a longing within this peculiarly charming man. And Ren, with his intuitive grasp of the laws of attachment, is a child of our own time: loving, wary, and ravenously hungry for home.