To Catch a Cheat by Varian Johnson (2015)
Jackson Greene is retired when it comes to conning and making plans for jobs. Dr. Kelsey, principal of Maplewood Middle, is still on Jackson’s heels after his last job, The Election Job otherwise known as The Great Green Heist. Jackson’s friend Charlie has decided to step into the role of master planner so that the gang can continue pulling their jobs, and for now Jackson is just living low and focusing on how he can kiss his girlfriend Gaby.
They all return to school on a Monday morning to find that the whole Gang Greene is accused of flooding the bathrooms over the weekend. The whole gang is innocent but no one has a reliable alibi–Charlie and his crew were pulling a con of their own at the rival middle school, and Jackson and Gaby were on their own mission.
To make matters worse, whoever is behind the flooding created a fake security video that shows all of Gang Greene at the school on Saturday night doing just that. They threaten to turn the video in to Dr. Kelsey unless they in-turn break into the school to steal the history teacher’s answers to her final exam, a test that is notoriously difficult.
Jackson has to step back into the world of conning one more time and Charlie has to set aside his jealousy towards Jackson as the better leader and master planner so that the whole Gang Greene can clear their name. In order to for them to do so, they’ll have to sneak past a state-of-the-art security system, outsmart the blackmailers who still seem to be one step ahead, keep Dr. Kelsey’s suspicions low, and hopefully devise their own con to catch the blackmailers red-handed.
What I liked: I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a sucker for a good heist. My favorite movie is Ocean’s Thirteen. Both The Great Greene Heist (the prequel to To Catch a Cheat) and this book feel very much like the Ocean’s series. They even reference how similar their job was to what happened in Ocean’s Twelve! You’ve got the seemingly impossible task, things going unexpectedly wrong just as the con is about to wrap-up, and the big reveal at the end explaining just how everything fell into place. I love following a con story like this where you are always wondering just how all the pieces are going to join up without any major hitches along the way.
Kudos to Varian Johnson for writing a series with such a diverse cast of characters. Many of the Gang Greene’s main characters are minorities, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but also in the roles that they play. Johnson not only does a great job of representing minorities and showing characters outside of their stereotyped roles, but also does it in way so that book isn’t screaming, “I’m a book with minorities as main characters!” or “Look! Girls can be interested in computers too!” The dialogue and actions of the characters are completely natural so that the reader is not distracted from the story itself.
Along with being a good heist, To Catch a Cheat has a good amount of action that is thrilling and suspenseful, has a good amount of mystery for the reader to try to solve, some drama between characters, and also has a drop of (PG) romance. In other words, there’s something in this book for everyone.
What I didn’t like: My only minor qualm is mostly my own fault. Since there is such a large cast of characters, I did have to pause at times to remember who was who and what their role was. There is a cast list at the beginning of the book for easy reference though.
My opinion in summary: The Jackson Greene series appeals to readers of all types whether they prefer action and suspense, or chemistry between characters. To Catch a Cheat is well-written in terms of being a heist with a good level of mystery throughout and satisfying reveal at the end, but also with having a cast of characters representative of today’s middle schools.
Overall rating: 9.5 out of 10