Usually, the rare novel that starts out in perfect pitch has you holding your breath in the desperate hope that the author won't blow it before bringing things to a close. With The Robbers you relax right away, confident that Bawden's sure footing won't desert her. The unlikely robbers of her title are motherless, nine-year-old Philip, a delightfully earnest little boy raised by his grandmother in a ""Grace and Favor"" castle apartment but now yanked off to the city by his newly remarried father, and Darcy Jones, a poorer boy who lives in a not-yet-gentrified building across the canal with an older brother, a pregnant black sister-in-law, and a crippled father. (His mother has run off.) The story sparkles with Philip's joy in his friendship with Darcy; then Darcy's brother, an antique dealer, is sent to jail for buying stolen goods, and Philip feels the family's and Darcy's distress. Moved by sympathy, loyalty, and an offended sense of justice, Philip goes along with Darcy's plan to rob the tightwad old lady next door. ""I'd rather go to hell than be a traitor,"" says Philip, making his choice. But the boys are caught, and because of ""different family circumstances,"" as the police put it, Darcy alone must go to court. Philip goes back to his sympathetic grandmother, a fate far better than the boarding school his stern, insensitive father had in mind; and Darcy determines to help his brother with the family support instead of training his beautiful singing voice as Philip's grandmother urges. Bawden knows all her characters very well (and many are well worth knowing), and she gives readers a chance to get to know them on their own. Similarly, she allows the sad ironies of the two boys' different situations to sink in, as they will, and mix with Philip's memories of cake and hymns in the Jones family parlor.