Contemporary, Fiction, Young Adult

How to Lead a Life of Crime

How to Lead a Life of Crime book cover
Image from The Book Owl

Title: How to Lead a Life of Crime

Author: Kirsten Miller

Genre: Contemporary

Meth dealer. Prostitute. Serial killer. Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re prodigies. New York City’s most exclusive school has been training criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless graduate – the rest disappear. Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits Joi, a fierce new student who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. Only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. They must find a way to save each other…before the school destroys them both…

I was interested in this book even before I made the connection that this is the same Kirsten Miller who wrote the awesome Kiki Strike books. So I was doubly excited to read it, despite being a little leery about the romance angle.

When I started the book, I thought Flick was a common pickpocket. Actually, not so much. His past is revealed little by little. And it’s not a common pickpocket’s past. He had some anger isues, which were understandable, and some trust issues, also understandable. Overall, though, I seriously wanted him to succeed.

Joi (pronounced Joey) wasn’t a major character until halfway though the story. And honestly, when she first showed up at the Mandel Academy, I wanted her to leave again. I’m not sure exactly why – maybe because her presence messed with Flick’s emotions so much – but I did not want her there. But as the story went on, I grew to admire her.

Mandel was an excellent antagonist. Brilliant, heartless, manipulative, and mildly insane. (That last one is my personal opinion, because there’s no hard evidence one way or the other.) He was the kind of guy who made a pickpocket main character look like a hero.

The plot was excellent. I loved how the characters interacted – criminals, psychopaths, and sociopaths on various levels, which gave the whole plot a brilliantly dark air. I think Mandel was part of what made the plot so good. He was purely evil, and he seemed unbeatable. I absolutely loved it up until Joi arrived.

I didn’t enjoy it quite so much when Joi first arrived. But after she and Flick got on the same page about what they were going to do, I liked it much better. I still didn’t like the half with Joi as much as the half without her, though.

How to Lead a Life of Crime had a dark, gritty, urban vibe, even in the “prestigious” Mandel Academy. I cannot name a character who wasn’t a criminal, but I honestly didn’t mind. Kirsten Miller did such a brilliant job evoking the tone of the story that a non-criminal character would have come across as an annoying goody-two-shoes.

In certain cases where the situation demands it – as it did most of the time in How to Lead a Life of Crime – I don’t mind milder swear words. I can understand the f-bomb used for realism’s sake, but it was written as f—. As someone who doesn’t like swear words in her books, I appreciate this.

How to Lead a Life of Crime was long, but it was worth every page. As far as I know, this is a standalone. But even tough I’m disappointed that I won’t be reading more of Flick, a sequel would drag it out far too long. How to Lead a Life of Crime wrapped up neatly, without much sequel room.

Now I want to go find out what Kirsten Miller’s writing next.

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