by Ben Macintyre ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 1, 1997
The very model of a major Victorian criminal--indeed, the original of Sherlock Holmes's nemesis, Professor Moriarty--is the subject of a true crime tale by Macintyre, Paris bureau chief for the Times of London (Forgotten Fatherland, 1992). Adam Worth, an American of German-Jewish stock, emigrated to England fresh from Civil War ""bounty jumping"" (by which enterprise he collected multiple Union army enlistment bonuses by deserting and re-upping under assumed names). Like many another alluring scalawag, he transformed himself, under the alias ""Raymond,"" into a man of considerable means and social standing. The diminutive Worth was a gentleman, complete with upper-crust accent and muttonchop whiskers. He was an extravagant, clever crook as well. The fearless brains of organized crime, he eschewed violence and firearms. With the enlistment of safecrackers, forgers, bank robbers, feckless felons, and bumbling brigands who, in a later day, might have been labeled ""Runyonesque,"" Worth's lawbreaking dominion covered all of Europe and both sides of the Atlantic. Branching out, he even ran a prototypical gangsters' nightclub in Paris. The cast of the picaresque story includes an avaricious coquette, a blundering Scotland Yard sleuth, and a private detective as determined and untiring as Javert. The detective, as corpulent as Holmes was thin, was William Pinkerton, a.k.a. ""the Eye."" Worth's most important score was Gainsborough's fabulous portrait of the fetching duchess of Devonshire. Entranced by the painting or, perhaps, by its subject, Worth kept the swag with him for two decades. It was Pinkerton, upon Worth's fall, who negotiated the picture's return--for a reward paid to Worth. The detective and the master criminal ended as friends. A delightful Victorian tale of colorful miscreants and dissembling rogues, told in engaging style.
Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1997
Page Count: 304
Publisher: "Farrar, Straus & Giroux"
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1997
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