Written by John Pilkington
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Hal McNulty (aged 12)


Elizabethan England. In his latest Elizabethan Mysteries adventure, 14-year-old actor, Ben Button, is visiting his family in the village of Hornsey after two years away. But things are not well. Farmer Dancer May, a man Ben dislikes, is courting his widowed mother, and his younger brother, Edward, resents him for deserting the family to ‘run off with travelling players’, as he sees it. Ben’s Granny, too, is causing concern – she has become an angry recluse and will let nobody near her cottage, not even Ben.

Then Sam Stubbs, the constable, tells Ben about some mysterious robberies in the village. Ben decides to help him investigate. Soon he is involved in a murder hunt … but will he be the next victim?

As usual, Pilkington writes a thrilling adventure, fast-paced and full of incident. I like the realistic Elizabethan village with the milking of cows, hawking, weaving, preparing for the harvest and so on going on as background. Pilkington doesn’t fall into the trap of having 21st century characters in Elizabethan dress. For example, Ben’s mother is poor because she is a widow and Pilkington shows us that, in Elizabethan England, a widow’s options are limited. Ben’s brother Edward had to forgo his schooling to help support his mother and sister. Ben behaves as an Elizabethan fourteen-year-old boy from his humble background ought; he is respectful to his elders and betters without being servile. We believe in them as real Elizabethan characters.

My one niggle is about Edward taking up a blacksmith’s apprenticeship at the end. The Buttons are a poor family, so how could they afford the not inconsiderable premium the blacksmith would have demanded?

That said, Thief! is a real page-turner and I’m sure that boys of nine up will enjoy it. I recommend it.


This book is an intriguing historical novel about Ben Button and his journey back to his home village – but will his parents and friends forgive him for leaving them? It is intriguing because it is a sort of mystery crime novel, which kept me on the edge of my seat. I do have one reservation, namely that in a mystery novel I like to be able to guess who has committed the crime. In Thief!, it was impossible to guess who the main culprit was because we had not heard of him when he was discovered. There should have been clues in the other books, perhaps. This is the fourth in the series; I think is the best one because it is unlike the others, not involving plays and the theatre for once. I would recommend this to children aged 9 – 13, and I look forward to the next.