Italian immigrant and new New Yorker Rocco Zaccaro is not an unreliable narrator.
Any time Rocco tells a lie or betrays someone who trusts him, he tells readers in advance exactly what he’s going to do. In the very first chapter, he introduces himself as “Rocco Zaccaro, pickpocket, liar extraordinaire, and escaped convict, among other things.” The old-fashioned, picaresque chapter headings are wonderfully informative. The caption for Chapter 4 is: “Containing a grave and shocking event that may disturb some readers.” (The book is set in the late 1880s, and the headings feel both historical and meta.) The chapter includes a scary scene involving a knife, but the book has almost no big surprise plot twists. Rocco announces them all ahead of time. He sums up most of the story in his self-introduction. And yet, Hopkinson’s writing is so inventive that it’s almost impossible to guess what will happen next. Every scene contains a little surprise. Rocco may be a liar and a criminal, but, like the best unreliable narrators from other books, he’s endlessly funny and clever.
Even though—in the book’s one predictable touch—Rocco gives up being a liar and a criminal, he’s reliably entertaining till the end of the story. (map, historical notes, bibliography, pickpocket’s glossary) (Historical fiction. 8-12)