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Book Review – ‘House of Thieves’

House of ThievesTitle: House of Thieves
Author: Charles Belfoure
Genre: Fiction (Historical/Mystery)
Release Date: September 15, 2015
Rating: ★★★

“In 1886 New York, a respectable architect shouldn’t have any connection to the notorious gang of thieves and killers that rules the underbelly of the city. But when John Cross’s son racks up an unfathomable gambling debt to Kent’s Gents, Cross must pay it back himself. All he has to do is use his inside knowledge of high society mansions and museums to craft a robbery even the smartest detectives won’t solve. The take better include some cash too —the bigger the payout, the faster this will be over.
With a newfound talent for sniffing out vulnerable and lucrative targets, Cross becomes invaluable to the gang. But Cross’s entire life has become a balancing act, and it will only take one mistake for it all to come crashing down —and for his family to go down too.”

I’m left with some really mixed feelings about this book and if I’m honest I’m not 100% certain that I liked it. I’ve been looking at a few reviews of it since I finished reading and the vast majority of people have given this book a glowing report, so maybe I’m the odd one out in this instance. But we can’t love everything I guess.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t anything I liked. I found the immersion of a member of the upper class into the New York underworld very appealing and I especially liked the novel’s villain, James T. Kent. Kent is one of those villains that you can imagine twirling the ends of his moustache, or rubbing his hands with glee as he smiles maniacally; but there is far more to him than that, you can sense the danger attached to him. He is intelligent, rich, and determined to get what he wants – or feels he deserves – at any cost. One minute he will be speaking calmly and the next unexpectedly lashing out at someone. He is definitely not someone you would want to cross, and he’s probably one of the best villains I’ve read in a while. While the other characters were solid, I didn’t love them (except maybe for Cross’s youngest son, Charlie, and his street urchin friend, Eddie) and they didn’t really grab me that much.

Belfoure’s attention to detail was amazing; of particular note was the saloon containing a ring filled with rats and a little dog who had to see how many of those rats it could kill in an allotted amount of time. Scenes in this saloon were incredibly well written – I could see the rats and the dog, and I could hear the cacophony of sounds that echoed around its walls. It’s definitely a book about place, and I enjoyed the city coming to life as I read. I can’t recall having read anything set in New York in this era before so it was an interesting read in that respect. Despite the stuffiness of the upper class it was clearly a very vibrant place. Belfoure also focuses a lot on the buildings of New York and although I enjoyed it in the early stages of the book, I think perhaps it was this emphasis on the architectural detail that lowered my overall opinion of it.

Obviously a certain level of detail was crucial in those parts of the story where robberies were being planned; after all, the main character was an architect planning heists and Belfoure himself is an architect by trade, so it made sense that it would be a point of focus. But there were some parts where there was – for me anyway – a little too much detail about buildings. This was especially true in the case of buildings on the street that John Cross happened to be walking past, as opposed to those that were to be the next target. I started to feel like the story was more about a history of buildings than about events surrounding characters, if that makes sense.

Overall I thought it to be a solid piece of writing that was, for the most part, an entertaining read – I wanted to know the outcome of events enough to stay in bed all morning on a Sunday and read. But I feel like it probably could have done with a few less pages and a few more characters who I could care about.


Many thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!


  1. Pingback: October on Bitsnbooks | bitsnbooks

  2. Thanks for the review. Kind of gives me a feeling of an Erik Larson type book, but I may be way off on that. I like books set in New York of yesteryear, but usually in the 1920s and such. Great review!


    • I haven’t read any Erik Larson, so I can vouch for that. But a lot of people have compared Belfoure with Ken Follett who wrote Pillars of the Earth. I can kind of see where the comparisons could be made, but Follett’s characters are much more engaging.


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