September 11, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Thieves' Opera

Current Status
In Season
Lucy Moore
, History, Nonfiction
We gave it a B+

English criminal mastermind Jonathan Wild invented the ”double-cross” and the modern crime empire, blackmailing members of his ”Corporation of Thieves” and its victims with equally ruthless abandon. In 1724 Wild announced he would catch cat burglar Jack Sheppard, folk hero to London’s exploited underclasses for using Houdini-like maneuvers to repeatedly escape from notorious city prisons. Their fates prove so karmically appropriate they’d be unbelievable in a novel — but they constitute a rip-roaring historical chronicle. Colorful digressions abound: Whether rendering the eccentric nobility (place settings at formal dinners included chamber pots) or nose-slashing street gangs, Moore makes The Thieves’ Opera an irresistible guide to Enlightenment Europe’s most luxurious, sordid, and violent city. B+

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