The Thieves' Opera: The Mesmerizing Story of Two Notorious Criminals in Eighteenth-Century London

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9780151003648: The Thieves' Opera: The Mesmerizing Story of Two Notorious Criminals in Eighteenth-Century London

The criminal underworld of Georgian London, the notorious “Thief-Taker” Jonathan Wild, and infamous housebreaker Jack Sheppard are the subjects in this deftly told history.

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Review:

Set against a backdrop of crumbling buildings--the result of hasty, cheap efforts at "urban renewal" after the Great Fire of 1666--and beautifully illustrated with William Hogarth's moralistic woodcuts, The Thieves' Opera charts the meteoric rise and fall of two of early-18th-century London's more colorful characters. The ruthless "lawman" Jonathan Wild was an early mastermind of organized crime who operated more or less within the boundaries of official approval; the slippery, mischievous Jack Sheppard had a knack for prison escapes and defiance of pompous authority that made him a sort of burglar-hero among the commoners of London.

Lucy Moore shows how Wild became London's unofficial "Thief-Taker General." Working under the auspices of London's lackadaisical officialdom, he made his career returning stolen goods to their proper owners for a fee; unknown to the victims, he negotiated directly with the robbers and often oversaw the original thefts. He discouraged competition, with punishments and reprisal that evoke contemporary Mob hits. On the other side of the coin is Sheppard, who lacked the ambition of Wild, but performed his crimes with a flair that in many cases robbed his victims of even the desire to hold a grudge against him.

Moore excels at supplying crucial illuminations of early-18th-century London street life with descriptions of coffee houses and public plazas so vivid you feel you've visited them. She emancipates the era from the quaint, manneristic drawing-room notions of ritualized emotions and unrequited love portrayed by modern-day "historical" fiction and film. Moore's London is filthy, chaotic, and hellish, a black den thick with thieves and "protected" by agents of law barely more scrupulous. With its large cast of cutpurses, highwaymen, footpads, prostitutes, and jailers (and jailed), The Thieves' Opera evokes more the Wild West of 19th-century America than it does refined British society. --Tjames Madison

About the Author:

Lucy Moore (born 1970) is a historian and writer. Lucy Moore was born in 1970. She was educated in Britain and the United States and studied history at Edinburgh University. In the 1990s, her parents lived in Mumbai, India. She spent some time visiting them in India, which led to her book Maharanis about Indian princesses

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