Book Review

The Readymade Thief

The Readymade ThiefAuthor: Augustus Rose
Publisher: Penguin Books
First Published: August 1, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 381
Format: ARC, eBook
Source: Penguin First to Read


Lee Cuddy is seventeen years old and on the run.

Betrayed by her family after taking the fall for a friend, Lee finds refuge in a cooperative of runaways holed up in an abandoned building they call the Crystal Castle. But the façade of the Castle conceals a far more sinister agenda, one hatched by a society of fanatical men set on decoding a series of powerful secrets hidden in plain sight. And they believe Lee holds the key to it all.

Aided by Tomi, a young hacker and artist with whom she has struck a wary alliance, Lee escapes into the unmapped corners of the city—empty aquariums, deserted motels, patrolled museums, and even the homes of vacationing families. But the deeper she goes underground, the more tightly she finds herself bound in the strange web she’s trying to elude. Desperate and out of options, Lee steps from the shadows to face who is after her—and why.

My Thoughts

Well, this book is certainly interesting, so much so that I still don’t fully know what to make of it. The Readymade Thief is a love letter to Marcel Duchamp, a French-American artist that became famous in the early twentieth century for his influence on conceptual art. He is most famous for his readymades, manufactured pieces that he turned into art. His stance on what constituted art is an idea that could be applied to the novel.

It’s art if the artist says that it is art. There are connections if that’s what you want to see. Duchamp’s life and work are threaded throughout the story, even some very small references that are easy to miss, and this was actually pretty awesome. The study of Duchamp’s work I think made for an interesting aspect of the story, and I liked the ideas about the fanatical secret society and the dark sort of humor to the plot.

I have to commend Augustus Rose for his skill in creating a narrative flow that was so easy to take in. For the first half of the book, Lee appears lost, like she’s treading water. It had a dream-like feel to it as Lee drifts in and out of different events. As the story goes on and the mystery starts to unravel Lee finds herself completely immersed. This steady shift in tone is reflected beautifully in both the pacing and the prose, from a drug-fueled haze to cold sobriety.

“An ordinary object elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist.”

So why do I feel so undecided about this book? The devil is in the plot itself, which to me felt like it had too many holes and was not well developed enough at points. Most of the Crystal Castle plot feels like it was thrown out of the window and I found it underwhelming. Then there was Tomi, the hacker. If there is one thing that is difficult to write about without in-depth knowledge it is hackers and the deep web. I won’t go into many details about it due to spoilers, but there were a lot of pieces of this portion of the plot that was just plain illogical and almost pointless. I even checked with a friend of mine that is a student in cybersecurity to be sure. The deep web is almost romanticized in the book when it really shouldn’t be.

While I know that convenience was important for creating the dreamy flow that I mentioned earlier, a lot of things seemed a little bit too convenient to be believable a lot of the time. A good portion of the plot was easy to predict, but I was still compelled to read because I wanted to know more of the why than the what.

This book was a pretty cool read overall if you can get over the hangups that I had. It is the type of book that will leave you feeling confused right along with the main character throughout the entire book. All in all, it was a mixed bag of mostly good things. It’s definitely an experience and worth the read in the very least to appreciate the tone and the feel of the writing which was really great. It’s the type of story I could easily see adapted to a television drama that I would watch in a heartbeat.

Warnings: sex, violence

About Augustus Rose

Augustus Rose grew up in and around San Francisco, California. His debut novel, The Readymade Thief (Viking 2017), is about a young woman at the center of a mystery involving the art Marcel Duchamp, the darknet, urban exploration, and the shotgun marriage of alchemy and string theory. He teaches fiction writing at the University of Chicago.


I’m a Filipino American blogger, historian, and lazy writer. I enjoy books, video games, anime/manga, and smoking hookah.

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