Two Crafty Criminals!: and how they were Captured by the Daring Detectives of the New Cut Gang - Philip Pullman Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!The kids of the New Cut Gang live in that charmed and whimsical world children inhabit until the crush of adulthood and responsibility; adults fall in line with their demands and nothing is impossible for the likes of Benny, Thunderbolt, Bridie and Sharky Boy - not even uncovering dastardly criminals or even meeting the Prince of Wales. Philip Pullman's latest publication might not stand level with the likes of the His Dark Materials trilogy but Two Crafty Criminals will certainly make for a diverting and thoroughly charming entertainment for middle-grade children it was created for. Two Crafty Criminals is not one novel but rather is a book containing of two entirely different stories set within the New Cut Gang - a constantly shifting alliance of meddlesome and cheeky pre-teens in Victorian London. While both stories are big on fun and short on filler, the first, Thunderbolt's Waxwork, definitely had the advantage of being first and thus, the more original of the two. With characters like the charismatic Benny running the show and the Gang, earnest and kind Thunderbolt, and strict Bridie managing the scene-stealer Sharky Boy, Pullman eases the reader into a light-hearted but clever mystery set in 1894. Benny, especially, he of the big dreams and even bigger schemes, seems drawn entirely from the period pictured, down to his accent ("Foller him everywhere, like a shadder..") but all the kids shown in both are different, with easy to identify personalities (especially the twins! And Sharky Boy). The Gas Fitter's Ball, the second of the two, retains the humor and cheek of the first without sacrificing ingenuity while fostering an entirely new mystery for the Gang to "detect". I read this entire book with an amused smile on my face. Even more than ten years removed from the target audience, Pullman's foray into Victorian London sleuthing is nearly pitch-perfect and enjoyable from start to end; only its lack of length makes for any quibbles. I think even the younger, intended readers would appreciate a little more length extended to both stories, populated as they are with such colorful kids and adults. There's an awful lot of imagination at play within Two Crafty Criminals, and if jailbreaks, robberies, reported hauntings, balls and get-rich-quick schemes in addition to pre-teen Victorian detectives, don't float your boat...well, there's something wrong with you.