A World War I–era true-crime tale about the theft of the world’s most valuable necklace.
Heist stories have an enduring fascination for the public, and Crosby (Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic that Remains One of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries, 2010, etc.) offers an exhaustively detailed reconstruction of one all but forgotten by history. The setting is the underworld of London’s Hatton Garden jewelry district in the days before the war, and the object of desire is a pink pearl necklace worth around $750,000—by one estimate, nearly $20 million in today’s currency. Criminal mastermind Joseph Grizzard, the “King of Fences,” had his eye on the necklace, and he concocted a plan to intercept it as it traveled by mail between two dealers. Despite the colorful setting and cast of characters, the narrative is slowed by the author’s efforts to explain every detail of life in London, giving it the feel of a history textbook at times. In the aftermath of the clever—though not particularly exciting—theft, the story picks up a bit of steam as the thieves attempt to cash in, with Scotland Yard and its ace detective, Inspector Alfred Ward, hot on the trail. Crosby leaves no aspect of the case unexamined, and the book will be extremely valuable as a reference material on 1913 London. But none of the characters truly come to life, and the necklace, beautiful and valuable though it may be, doesn’t have the romance and mystery of the Hope Diamond or Star of India.
Lacks the excitement of a truly thrilling heist caper, but offers an illuminating glimpse into England’s criminal past.