House of Thieves

Written by Charles Belfoure
Review by Kate Braithwaite

John Cross is a successful architect working in New York in 1886. He is married, although not happily, and has three children the eldest of whom, George, has a gambling problem. George is in debt to crime boss James T. Kent, a Princeton man with rich tastes and a ruthless approach to his business. Kent threatens to kill George unless John uses his knowledge of the buildings of Manhattan to help Kent’s Gents commit a series of daring robberies. A severed head in his icebox quickly convinces John he has no choice but to work with Kent.

Splendid in its evocation of 19th-century Manhattan, House of Thieves captures the highs and lows of New York life. John Cross finds he is adept at identifying targets for Kent and they embark on a series of dramatic robberies. Cross’ wife, meanwhile, is preparing their daughter Julia for her debut, but Julia is more interested in adventures to the dog-fighting dens of the Tenderloin than choosing gowns and taking tea at the Astor’s brownstone mansion on Fifth Avenue. Add schoolboy Charlie to the mix—the youngest of the Cross children—who tells his parents he is visiting museums when he’s really wrangling rats or selling newspapers with his friend from the Five Points, and it becomes clear that Belfoure’s novel is aptly titled.

This is a page-turning novel, packed with incident, making up for what it lacks in emotional depth and characterization. Lively period detail and its crime-caper feel make this an enjoyable read.