This nifty popular history spotlights the interrelated careers of the Georgian era's two most notorious good-for-nothings:...


THE THIEVES' OPERA: The Mesmerizing Story of Two Notorious Criminals in Eighteenth-Century London

This nifty popular history spotlights the interrelated careers of the Georgian era's two most notorious good-for-nothings: Jonathan Wild and Jack Sheppard. We've all heard about the London of Swift and Defoe in all its fashionable tawdriness: the endemic gin drinking, the crime, and the depravity. But many readers will be surprised to learn that, lacking an organized police force, wronged citizens of this time were themselves responsible for bringing criminals to trial. Master of this thieves' universe was Wild, a ""past-master in the art of self-promotion,"" arrogant, egotistical, the subject of a biography written by Defoe. Moore retells the saga of Wild's apprenticeship in crime and how he came to make his living as an intermediary between the criminal underworld and its victims, taking a fee for returning stolen goods and, on occasion, for turning in to the authorities--again, at a nice profit--those crooks who had earned his ill-will. Says Moore of Wild and his pas de deux with such individuals as Sheppard, a housebreaker: ""Wild knew as much about their actions as they did, and they learned not to disobey or deceive him."" The rebellious Sheppard's ascendant career would be closely tied with Wild's eventual downfall, and Moore's story really takes off in its second half with the telling of Sheppard's several audacious prison breaks. Illustrations from Hogarth's contemporaneous engravings give a fitting illustration to Moore's detailed narrative. She also provides a breezy overview of law and penal codes in a society that made up for its lack of policing by decreeing but one penalty, death by hanging, for a range of crimes from petty robbery to murder. Moore's debut employs these endearing rogues' biographies as occasion for an extended overview of London's wild and woolly street culture. The result is edifying, richly colorful, and, at times, enthralling.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 1998


Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harcourt Brace

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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