BOOK REVIEW: Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Thief by Maurice Leblanc

Arsene Lupin, Gentleman ThiefArsene Lupin, Gentleman Thief by Maurice Leblanc
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon.in Page

Out: July 5, 2022

This is a beautifully illustrated edition of the first collection of stories featuring the fictional burglar-extraordinaire, Arsène Lupin. While some of the nine stories reference others, they each read standalone.

Arsène Lupin is the Sherlock Holmes of crime. Like Holmes, he’s extremely intelligent, gifted in observation, with deep insight into human nature, and with a range of practical skills from hand-to-hand combat to disguise, but Lupin puts these talents to use for the purpose of theft. While one might think of Prof. Moriarty as “the Sherlock Holmes of crime,” Lupin operates by a code, eschewing senseless violence, carefully targeting his victims, and returning items he feels inappropriately taken. (Mirroring how Holmes occasionally lets a [technically] guilty party go free due to extenuating circumstances.) Besides cameo references to Holmes in multiple stories, the final story pits England’s greatest detective against France’s greatest burglar (though in a way that mostly allows each to retain an unblemished record and mutual admiration.)

I found these stories to be enjoyable to read, and generally clever, but – having been forced to make the comparison due to the repeated references to Holmes – I couldn’t help but see their inferiorty to the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Lupin is more one-dimensional and fantastical than Holmes. In Holmes, one recognizes that one is unlikely to get extreme intelligence without some sort of countervailing cognitive challenges – e.g. Holmes is an addict who needs to fill his days with work lest he fill them with heroin, and for all his great observational skills, Holmes frequently doesn’t recognize when he’s offending others with his brusque nature and sense of superiority. Lupin can come off as an arrogant jerk (he recognizes that he’s being narcissistic, but doesn’t care) but it seems we’re supposed to conclude that he’s just that good. Lupin is a fantastical mix of super intelligence, preternatural charm, and zero weaknesses – i.e. a perfect being made for pure escapism.

The stories are enjoyable and the art is beautifully rendered, and if you can avoid comparing it to Sherlock Holes and take it as mere escapism, you’ll likely find this book pleasing.

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BOOK REVIEW: A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

A Burglar's Guide to the CityA Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a book about how people exploit the architecture and infrastructure of cities to abscond with other people’s property. Manaugh shows us both how the masterminds of burglary think outside the box “Ocean’s Eleven” style, as well as how the dim dull-wits and junkies botch burglaries in hilarious ways. In the process, the author also shines a light on the ways in which the law enforcement community has had to update its technological and tactical capabilities to counter these threats.

The book contains seven chapters. The first chapter lays the groundwork, particularly through discussion of the aforementioned extremes. On one hand, there is George Leonidas Leslie, an architect turned bank robber who would build accurate mockups in order to accurately rehearse robberies, and–on the other hand–there is the guy who used a ghillie suit disguise in a rock and mineral museum (which, not unsurprisingly, featured barren rock displays [down-playing vegetation] such that the guy stuck out like a guy in a ghillie suit in a rock display.)

Chapter 2 details what Manaugh learned about burglary and the fight against it through his interviews with law enforcement, and—in particular—the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) helicopter unit.

The next chapter focuses on how different types of buildings are violated by burglars, and apartment burglaries are prominent in the discussion. This isn’t just about how they breach the building, but how they discover when no one will be home.

Chapter 4 is entitled “tools of the trade” and it reflects upon the skill-set that Hollywood suggests is associated with burglars—i.e. lock-picking and safe-cracking–but which constitute a less common set of tactics than one might think. Burglars usually favor the messier / quicker approach of busting walls and locks.

Chapter 5 deals with a number of issues under the rubric of “inside jobs” but one of the most intriguing is its discussion of those who don’t break in at all, but rather who hide inside the target building awaiting closing time.

The penultimate chapter is about that ever-present concern of burglars, the getaway. And sometimes the secret is what Black Widow says in “Captain America: Civil War”: “The first rule of being on the run is walk, don’t run.” The final chapter is a wrap-up, including a conclusion to the George Leonidas Leslie story that was brought up in the first chapter.

There are notes and citations at the end of the book. There are no graphics. I think this book could have benefited from graphics. However, the author displayed such skill with language and story-telling that I didn’t seem to notice (or care) at the time of reading. I suspect Manaugh didn’t want to present too much detail for fear of being seen as an actual manual for crime, which this clearly is not.

I found this book fascinating, and think you would enjoy it if you have any interests in cities, security, civil engineering, architecture, or just have a healthy curiosity about how buildings and cities work.

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