Chapter 1 Summary

The Thief Lord begins as Autumn arrives in Venice. The canals and ancient buildings look beautiful, and the air is getting chilly. Victor Getz is happily trying on a new fake mustache when he hears a knock at the door. He reflects that someone must have noticed his sign, which states that he is a private detective willing to help with any type of investigation.

Victor opens the door to a strict and humorless couple, whom he ushers inside. They introduce themselves as Esther and Max Hartlieb. They look around his living room, which doubles as his office, frowning at his collections of cactus plants and fake beards. Victor expects them to request that he find a stolen possession. Instead they ask him to look for their two nephews, twelve-year-old Prosper and five-year-old Boniface, who have run away.

Esther explains that the Prosper and Bo’s mother, her sister, died three months ago. Esther and Max have never had children of their own, so they offered to adopt Bo. However, Esther said:

We couldn’t possibly have taken on his older brother as well. Any reasonable person could see that.

Prosper, according to her, is the opposite of a reasonable person. He reacted to her generous offer “like a lunatic, accusing us of stealing his brother.” Eight weeks ago, Prosper took Bo from their grandfather’s house in Hamburg, Germany, and the two boys ran away. The Hartliebs have spent a great deal of time and money looking for the boys, whom they believe are now in Venice. Their mother loved Venice and often told them stories about the city’s beauty and magic.

Victor has a bad impression of the Hartliebs. He loves Venice, but they deplore the city for its “filth.” They also insist that they never ran away as children, and they clearly cannot imagine why their nephews objected to being separated. In spite of his misgivings, Victor agrees to take the job. It worries him to think of the two young boys taking care of themselves alone.

When the Hartliebs leave, Victor watches them from his balcony, noting how they take no notice of Venice’s beauty as they rush away. “Parents like that are better than no parents at all, right?” he mutters to his pets, two tortoises named Lando and Paula. Victor knows he will have a hard time doing this job. He has lived in Venice for fifteen years, but even he does not know all its hiding places. It is full of narrow alleys and boarded-up buildings, like “one huge invitation to play hide and seek.” Still, he resolves to try his best to find the boys.