The Good Thief: A Novel

by Hannah Tinti

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Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

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Benjamin, Tom, and Ren smuggle the body into Mrs. Sands’s house. It is almost four in the morning, and Mrs. Sands will likely be awake soon. Once the man is snoring in Ren’s bed, Benjamin and Tom leave to deliver the other bodies to Doctor Milton. Ren stays behind, and Benjamin hands him a revolver. Ren thinks about the families that will discover the graves of their loved ones disturbed and listens to the “purple suit” snore. He runs his finger over the hammer of the revolver, wondering what he would say to Mrs. Sands if she were to walk in and see that he had shot someone. He wants her to believe that he is a good person.

Ren notices a spider scuttling across the man’s stomach while he sleeps with his mouth open, “his teeth glistening in the moonlight.” Ren wonders how he was buried alive, if a doctor had failed to detect his heartbeat or if he had managed to “pull his spirit back from heaven.” Ren thinks of the story of Saint Anthony's resurrecting a boy to clear his father’s name. He does not think this man’s situation is anything like the boy’s. Ren flicks the spider onto the floor and crushes it under his shoe. The dead man awakens, and Ren raises the revolver with an unsteady hand. The man looks “even larger though he could bring his foot down on a boy just as easily as a spider.” He tells Ren that it looks like he has been dancing, and then he flicks another insect off of his face. The many-legged bug scurries across the floor towards Ren. Ren uses his shoe to grind this insect into the floor, too. The man observes again that it looks like Ren is dancing.

Ren suddenly feels a “creeping sensation” on the back of his legs because the man’s voice sounds “deep and ragged”—as if he “had been buried not for just a day but for a century.” He notices that, though the room is still dark, an “even greater darkness seemed to seep directly” from the man, “like a thick and evil fog.” The man says then that he is cold, and Ren hands him one of Mrs. Sands’s quilts. The man takes it, calling it a “treat,” and after some time Ren realizes that the man is crying. Ren can hardly believe it; he had thought that adults never cried, but the man before him is sobbing: “a deep sound coming from the man’s chest” in a “heavy kind of moan that bends people over.” Ren has not heard this kind of sobbing since he was at Saint Anthony’s, when the little boys in his room would sob as they remembered their mothers. He sits at the edge of the bed and can nearly taste the ripe and foul fog. He pats the man’s ankle and finally the man stops crying—without ever having wiped his face or nose—and announces that he is thirsty. Ren brings him a bowl of water and watches him drink. His hands are three times larger than Ren’s, with palms “hard and muscled” and fingers “stubby and wide.”

The man introduces himself as Dolly and asks Ren, who is still carrying the gun, if he is going to shoot him. Ren does not think he will, so Dolly lies down. Ren lifts the quilt to help him and watches a dozen “crawling things” rush out over the mattress. He notices a tattoo of an anchor with a chain that wraps around Dolly’s waist. Dolly tells him that he got...

(This entire section contains 1075 words.)

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the tattoo in New York and parts of the chain in Philadelphia and Boston. He says that the tattoos are “how [he] keep[s] track of things.” The look on Dolly’s face makes Ren very uncomfortable. He can see the fog crossing the room and wishes that Benjamin would return, but he asks Dolly why he came to North Umbrage. Dolly responds that he came to kill someone. He was attacked before he could finish the job. He says that he will succeed, however, and then get another job; that New England is “full of grudges,” with “lots of people that need to be murdered, and people looking for someone to murder them.” Dolly believes he was made to be a murderer.


The Good Thief continues to resist genre classification with the revelations of Dolly’s character and the circumstances leading to his unexpected rise from the grave. Though there are clues that suggest Dolly may be a supernatural being, they do not serve as definitive evidence. The dark “fog” emanating from his body may be an evil force, but it could also be a foul smell caused by being trapped in a coffin. Furthermore, Ren’s assessment of Dolly may only be his own projections of guilt and dread—both of which he experienced intensely before Dolly woke up. The details received provoke curiosity while also encouraging the reader to question the reliability of Ren’s perceptions.

Despite Ren’s potentially unreliable perspective, Dolly is an unquestionably bizarre and sinister man. He exudes ominousness at both the level of character and of physical appearance. As a grotesque figure, his strangely large and deformed body—which Ren can imagine crushing a boy “just as easily as a spider”—affords him a successful and unusual career as an assassin. As Dolly proudly says, he is “made for it,” and there are plenty of New Englanders “that need to be murdered.” Dolly’s unnatural brutishness extends to his personality, as Ren soon discovers; he lacks human empathy, feeling no sympathy for the people he kills. Like Benjamin and Tom, he commodifies bodies by profiting from their death. However, he seems plagued by something when he sobs violently after being given a quilt.

In addition to providing some context for Dolly’s apparent resurrection, the novel foreshadows disaster in the near future. Aside from the malevolent nature of Dolly’s character, his avowal of revenge on his attempted murderers suggests violent conflict very soon. Moreover, other aspects of his presence almost certainly foreshadow sinister events; the insects that emerge from his clothes, the tattoo of chains that mark every successful kill, and his mysterious inability to respond in order to prevent being buried all inspire ambivalence in the reader.


Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis


Chapter 17 Summary and Analysis