Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman

By E. W. Hornung

Back when Sherlock Holmes was testing cigar ash and sampling liquid cocaine, he had a counter-part in the literary crime world, one A.J. Raffles. It would be Raffles’ cigarette ash that Holmes would be testing – Raffles is a burglar. Not a particularly smooth burglar – his schemes do not always go quite according to plan – but he is fairly successful none-the-less, making away with Australian gold bullion in one escapade, and in the next, brazenly out-burglaring some well-known thieves for a Dowager-Marchioness’s sapphires. With his own version of Dr. Watson at his side (the peculiarly nick-named Bunny who also narrates these tales), the pair insinuate themselves into high society by playing cricket with aplomb, hob-knobbing with lords and ladies, and often doing so right under the unsuspecting nose of Inspector MacKenzie of Scotland Yard. As much a master of disguise as Holmes, Raffles chooses their targets not only for financial gain (they tend to spend their ill-gotten gains rather quickly), but also for the challenge of the theft. Thus, they tangle with the brutish Rosenthall, an illicit diamond buyer, and undertake to re-steal a stolen and priceless work of art for the handsome sum of £4000 - and risk getting nothing if they fail. Written in 1899, in late Victorian style by the brother-in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, reading Raffles is very much like stepping back through time to visit a much beloved but forgotten gem of a character, one who creates the types of crimes Holmes would solve. While the late 1890’s slang may be as mysterious as the liberal use of cricket lingo (some words used have completely different uses today!), these short, early adventure stories of the gentleman thief have great flair, and are first-rate reading for true mystery fans. Any association with the stylish Raffles Hotel in Singapore – also built in the 1890’s – I am sure is just a happy coincidence. Click here to reserve a copy of Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman in our on-line catalogue.


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