The period of the book is fascinating, set throughout the Second World War, starting when Coventry was bombed by the German Luftwaffe in 1939. The only survivor of the Shadwell family is sixteen years old Ruby who starts to rebuild her life amongst the rubble and war-ravaged lives. The rubble is her salvation as she collects and restores items damaged during the bombing raids. Ruby acquires a business licence to resell the items and so begins a drama of interactions with various friendly and deceitful characters.
Fred, Helen, Beatty, Tommy and John all contribute to the sense of lives deeply affected by the war and the devastation of cities like Coventry. From the elderly Fred to the street urchin Tommy, the extent of issues facing survivors is addressed with diverse scope and interest. The community spirit can be seen at times of catastrophic events, but there will always be some who try to take advantage of vulnerable survivors.
The story will probably be categorised as a romance novel but because of the wider character threads and historical content, I think this is quite limiting. The balance generally worked for me but I can imagine the romance readers will want more of a love story and the general fiction readers will want more observational drama with the various characters. The romance thread is sparked when Ruby meets Canadian soldier and photographer Jean-Paul (John) Clayton when he stops by her shop to ask directions.
The storyline around Tommy is probably the most engrossing as we see a range of situations and characters that provide a spectrum of light and dark machinations. He is an intriguing character and we see how the surroundings and adult interactions can influence the direction of a young orphan boy.
The Orphan Thief is an easy read with an engaging story, although at times it felt mechanical and predictable. At the beginning of the book with the bombing of Coventry and the loss of Ruby’s family, I felt it lacked emotional impact but was more diverse in the story. The canvas was there for high emotion, psychological turmoil and a challenging period in world history but it didn’t quite deliver for me. The last quarter of the book followed a more typically romance narrative, where the other characters played a supporting role, which I believe Glynis Peters is very adept at writing.
I would rate this book 3.5 stars and recommend it to readers that enjoy a splash of historical fiction, romance and an easy read with a good assortment of characters. Many thanks to One More Chapter and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of the book in return for an honest review.