A Heist Too Far by Rob Knipe

8/10 A fun read with engaging characters and a good plot.

I liked this book. If a four-word review is what you’re looking for then you won’t find much better than that. But for those who prefer a little more word-meat on their review-bones here are the many things I liked and a couple of things I didn’t.

A Heist Too Far is a work of comic fantasy and author Rob Knipe’s debut novel. We follow the adventures of Mallik; a former assassin turned highwayman and his two trusty sidekicks, Dick Swede (aka The Black Moustache) and Jules Van Jives (an elf with more than a touch of the pyromaniac in him). When the titular heist goes wrong, leaving Mallik’s love lying dead in the road, he will stop at nothing to get his revenge…

It has been a month since I finished this book and I am pleased to say that the story and the characters have remained fresh in my mind. This for me is the sign of a good book. The three main characters are well-drawn, engaging anti-heroes that fantasy fans will both recognise and enjoy reading about: Mallik is every bit the outcast-super-sword-wielder; Dick is a foppish reincarnation of infamous highwayman Dick Turpin and Jules is a loutish, mob haired elf with a passion for fire and explosions. It is Jules that I found most refreshing; gone is the aloof, mysterious and cryptic elf found in Tolkien’s work (and his many imitators) to be replaced by a heavy-drinking, amoral pointy-eared creation that really worked for me.

A Heist Too Far owes much to both the aforementioned JRR Tolkien and the king of humorous fantasy Terry Pratchett. Knipe never attempts to hide these influences but instead treats us to his own amusing take on high fantasy and there are some genuinely warm, funny and exciting moments to be had. The thing that I liked most about the book was that it never attempted to take itself too seriously and I think the author intended for this to be simply a fun read. And in this he succeeded.

My only real gripe would be the length of the book. The book just falls short of 600 pages and although I should mention that the font setting is larger than normal I would guess that a standard paperback edition this book would likely roll out at 450+ pages. Either way I think it is just too long for a work of humorous fantasy. The Pratchett books that I have read have been between 250 and 350 pages and the reason for this is that comedy is only funny for so long. I watched some Johnny Vegas stand-up recently, it lasted 20 minutes and was very funny in parts, but had it been an hour-long set then the last 40 minutes would most likely have been tough going. I think that 300 - at a push 350 - pages is as big as a book of the this type should be.

The second thing that I should mention is that sentence structure and dialogue could be improved in places but fully understand that Knipe did not have a team of experienced editors behind him and so allowances should always be made.

Another element of the story that is likely to divide opinions is the use of contemporary speech (particularly curse words) in the dialogue. For some this will be fine but I know of a few for whom this is a definite no-no. I, for my part, would have preferred a less modern approach but couldn’t honestly say that it affected the reading enjoyment to any serious extent.

When I think back on the book it struck me that the bits that I thought best, namely the titular heist and the cleansing of a Druid temple, were the parts of the book that featured the least humour. The latter event, when Mallik is paid to cleanse a Druid temple that has been overrun evil, was very dark, reminiscent of David Gemmell and very well done, being both chilling and tense in equal measure. So I guess I am saying that I enjoy Knipe’s work more when the characters are not trying to be too funny and the balance between action, story and humour is at is best.

All in all, A Heist Too Far is a fun read with engaging characters and a good plot that it perhaps 100-200 pages too long. It is a debut that shows real promise for the future and at the time this review was being written the e-book edition was available on for only £1.14. And that offers fantastic value for money so go on, give it a go and let us know what you think!

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