Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Book Review - The Unreliable Life of Harry the Valet

Title: The Unreliable Life of Harry the Valet: The Great Victorian Jewel Thief
Author: Duncan Hamilton
Publisher: Century
Release Date: 5 May 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1846058134

In October 1898, on route to Paris’ Gare du Nord station, the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland’s jewels were stolen from her train carriage. More than 40 pieces, worth nearly £2m today, disappeared that night and the perpetrator along with them.

It would become one of the most widely reported heists of the late Victorian era, but what no one knew was that the man who committed this most daring and well planned theft had already committed nine almost identical crimes.

The true story of the most notorious Victorian Jewel thief, The Unreliable Life of Harry the Valet has all the hallmarks of the finest detective fiction, but has romance at its heart and a love story which endured on Harry’s part for the rest of his life, despite ultimately destroying him.

My Review
I was sent this book by 'Random House' in exchange for an honest review.
Although I don't read a lot of non-fiction, I do have a thing about Victorian detective stories, so when I got offered to read this I immediately said yes. Although it is non-fiction, it reads similar to fiction and so it flows well and makes it easier to read.
Harry the Valet is a man of many identities and talents. To many he doesn't exist, he moves so quickly and precisely you don't see him, to others he is the well dressed, well mannered man that moves in the right circles. He works hard to keep his image and get in with all the best people, all the more chance to lift something valuable.
When the Dowager Duchess' jewels are stolen from the train carriage on the Gare du Nord station, it is the most talked about crime, people talk about a gang of thieves, others of betrayal, but no one considers Harry as he walks away and spends more money than he could ever have hoped to have got. By this point in his life he had become somewhat of a legend in the crime world, pulling of some of the best and most extravagant heists but never being caught, he was pursued by London’s top detectives for five and a half years and – by their own admission – ‘proved smarter’ than them.
Although I don't approve of stealing etc, especially when it's just for the thrill of it, I must admit I really liked Harry, this book goes back to the very beginning when he stole some money from his parents shop, right through his life till the point of his death. I found him a fascinating person and could have been written as the perfect book character, which is what makes this so readable, I had to remind myself all of it really did happen, and I began to admire his skill and talent.
The book also delves into Harry the Valet's love life and all that came with it, is it possible that a woman could be the downfall of such a great thief. Well, it was, Harry shows his heart and gives it his all only to be shot down, I felt really sorry for him. I won't go into too much detail because I think you should read it yourselves, but the whole love thing really melted my heart, it showed he had a soft, vulnerable side and was willing to take a chance and jump into a relationship.

Reading this book was very interesting, and if I can find other non-fiction books like this I would definitely read them, I learnt quite a bit about that period and the people in it, not just Harry. I did read it a bit slower than an ordinary fiction novel, but it didn't take much longer, obviously facts have to be included and there were some big words that I had to look up (wow I sound quite dim there, but it's the truth) but it didn't take away my enjoyment and I am so glad I got a chance to read this.

A great books for fans of books such as Sherlock Holmes and any other Victorian/Detectives or really anyone interested in that era or genre. I would say suitable for 15+ as there are some scenes of violence and a few references to sex. But it's not a lot or in your face so teenagers should be OK.

I really enjoyed it and got to know about a great person, I really connected to Harry the Valet and think he lead a thrilling life, if not a bit shocking and dangerous. The ending was quite sad, but the book was excellently researched and very well written. 

My Rating
I would give this book 9/10, I take my hat off to a Legend in his own right - Harry the Valet, your expertise and skill should be recognized by all and that's what this book does!

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