Monday, 13 September 2021

The Napoleon of Crime - Ben Macintyre


"Thrilling," cries the Telegraph.  "A highly charged thriller!" squeaks the Independent on Sunday.  No it's not.  Anyone who works in the media and writes a book is always going to get quotes for his blurb.  In this case only Macintyre's employer seems to have bothered to read it.  "A well-researched and lively account," says the good old Times, and The Napoleon of Crime is certainly that.  In fact Macintyre's liveliness is adversely effected by the depth of his research.  He thinks Adam Worth, the said Napoleon, is compelling.  He isn't.  A Napoleon of crime is only interesting when he's caught, until which time he is just another inexplicably rich person.  He may or may not have contributed to Conan Doyle's creation of Professor Moriarty, but anyone who has read the stories will tell you he's not very interesting either.

The thing about Worth is that he did two interesting things - he stole and returned Gainsborough's painting of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, at that time the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.  He stole the painting boldly and personally.  He returned it clandestinely and may even have been paid to do so.  He was never charged with the theft.  Yes, that's really unusual and interesting - but unfortunately the two events are twenty-five years apart.  Twenty-five years in which Worth slowly sank lower and lower.

What Macintyre should have written was the story of the painting, overlaying the rapid rise and painfully slow descent of Worth.  But he has discovered too much detail about Worth in the files of the Pinkerton Detective Agency and just cannot bring himself to sublimate any of it.  Thus the first part of the book, leading up to the theft, is rip-roaring.  Everything after that point is just plain boring. My quote, if anybody wants it for a future edition, would be 'Disappointing.'

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