Harry the Valet was a famous Victorian jewel thief who was celebrated for his daring exploits in which he swiped the jewels of the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland and the evil Maharajah of Alwar. Hornung may have based the Raffles books on him. Despite his humble Cockney beginnings (though his family was middle class and bourgeois) he posed as a debonair man about time, living the high life of champagne and Gaiety Girls and shooting in the season, funding it all from the proceeds of his crimes.
His modus operandi was to hang around railway stations watching the upper class travelling with the footmen and maids, wait until the maid put the jewel case down and turned her back, instantly pinch it and escape. This called for acute observation, dexterity (he learned his trade as a pickpocket), daring, and the ability to blend into the crowd both before and after the event. But it was a fundamentally simple M.O. and the wonder is that he got away with it for so long. Because he specialised in jewels he was very dependent on a network of fences and was lucky that none of them turned him in. In the end it was his recklessness in the aftermath of his most spectacular heist that earned him his first long prison spell; after that he was too old to truly be successful and too well-known to escape for long.
Although Hamilton repeatedly pads his book with tantalising glimpses of what will be revealed in the final chapter, which irritates me immensely, he is a great writer who has built a sometimes seedy life into a rattling good yarn.
Excellent. December 2013; 285 pages
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57