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Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (Wordsworth…

Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (Wordsworth Classics) (original 1905; edition 1994)

by E. W. Hornung

Series: Raffles (1)

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Title:Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman (Wordsworth Classics)
Authors:E. W. Hornung
Info:Wordsworth Editions, Edition: First Thus, Paperback
Collections:Read and passed on

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Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung (1905)

  1. 01
    The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (majkia)
    majkia: Although completely different settings, still the same lighthearted thievery going on.

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A.J. Raffles periodically re-surfaces as a classic character of popular fiction, and just as quickly drops out of sight again, exactly as E.W. Hornung frequently describes him doing in the 26 short stories and single novel that he devoted to Raffles - about half the output that Arthur Conan Doyle produced about Sherlock Holmes. Hornung, famously, was married to Conan Doyle's sister, and patterned his stories of the gentleman thief and champion cricketer Raffles, and his sidekick Bunny Mander, after the Holmesian example, while inverting the moral system. Conan Doyle was flattered and praised the stories, but was also troubled by them: "You must not make the criminal a hero."

Of course, it's exactly this inversion that has always provided Raffles' fascination. Should we root for him or not? Hornung comes up with ways for us to do so rather painlessly, but still, it's a dicey business. Each new Raffles story you read raises the issue all over again, and that, obviously, is an awfully good fictional hook.

The Raffles - Bunny relationship is also, in a different sense, "inverted" - a whole lot gayer than the Holmes - Watson partnership. Hornung was friendly with Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, and is said to have based his duo partly on them. In the first Raffles story, "The Ides of March," a distinctly down-on-his-luck Bunny Mander is actually contemplating suicide over some gambling debts, but his old schoolmate Raffles persuades him that criminality is sometimes a better course of action than giving into depression. To become Raffles' partner-in-crime for the rest of the series, Bunny has to get off on shared improper behavior, and boy does he:

I'll do it again...I will...I'll lend you a hand as often as you like! What does it matter now? I've been in it once. I'll be in it again. I've gone to the devil anyhow. I can't go back, and wouldn't if I could. Nothing matters another rap! When you want me I'm your man.

If no sexual interpretation occurs to you while you are reading that, you have a cleaner mind than mine.

The first 16 Raffles stories were collected in two volumes of eight stories apiece, The Amateur Cracksman (1899) and The Black Mask (1901). Wordsworth Classics reprinted all these in one volume, Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman, in 1994, and it was in this form that I read and was delighted by them.

These first two volumes of Raffles stories are decidedly different, because at the end of the first, Raffles disappears and Bunny is packed off to prison. Their adventures after their reunion in the second collection cannot have the same carefree tone as before, and indeed do not, a fact that some decried as a diminution of the original impulse, but which I simply read as fictional development. Things have to happen in stories, as in life, and in good fictional series, the author follows through on the consequences of them happening.

Raffles comes to a rather improbable glorious end fighting in the Boer War in the last of these 16 stories, and when Hornung decided to revive the character with 10 more stories in A Thief in the Night in 1905, and a single novel Mr. Justice Raffles in 1909, he didn't "bring him back to life" a la Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Empty House," but set the stories in a period before Raffles' demise a la The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Raffles has been incarnated by at least 13 actors on screen and television, including John Barrymore, Ronald Colman, and David Niven. Anyone who can play elegant-but-larcenous has been eligible. Cary Grant would have worked. ( )
  PatrickMurtha | Aug 21, 2016 |
A. J. Raffles, a gentleman thief, travels among the elite of the London social register. Invited for his classy manners and top cricket playing at many a manor and country estate, he is a bit of a Robin Hood-esque figure crossed with Sherlock Holmes. Being of good manners, he never steals from his hosts, but if there is something amiss he will make it all right.

Harry "Bunny" Manders, an old schoolmate, plays Watson to Raffles. Recording their many adventures while also being the partner in crime.

In "A Jubilee Present", Raffles becomes enamored with a priceless gold cup in the British Museum. Managing to steal it from out of heavy security, it finds it so beautiful that he can't melt it down to sell. Instead he presents it to Queen Victoria in tribute to her Diamond Jubilee. A bit of Robin Hood here.

This is the second collection of short stories recounting some of their adventure. The stories take place later in their careers. This was the first collection published. There are two other books of earlier adventures that were published later. I definitely plan to read them.

Interesting note is that E.W. Hornung was Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law, and felt that Raffles was to be a form of flattery to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. ( )
  ChazziFrazz | Jun 23, 2016 |
The adventures of Raffles, gentleman jewel thief, as told by his unwilling but adoring friend, Bunny. It's strange but diverting
  amyem58 | Apr 8, 2016 |
recommended to me as: "They're basically Sherlock and Watson, but criminals. It's awesome. http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/706
To make the Raffles books even better - not only are they basically Holmes and Watson but criminals; Hornung was ACD's brother-in-law, and Raffles and Bunny were pretty much an intentional Holmes and Watson parody, complete with OTT slashiness that might actually have been intentional.

Be warned for some A Product Of It's Time casual racism in one or two of the stories, though."
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
This is more of a historical curiosity now as the stories aren't very exciting or clever.

A.J. Raffles is a gentleman thief in late Victorian England whose main cover story of playing cricket allows him some outside excuse for travel. He has a sidekick named Bunny Manders who is the one documenting the stories. There is a main adversary as well in Inspector MacKenzie of Scotland Yard. If these parallels to Sherlock Holmes aren't enough for you, then you should also know that author E.W. Hornung was the brother-in-law of Arthur Conan Doyle.

The stories however usually involve simply quick and bold grabs without any particularly clever scheme, so in comparison to modern day heist thrillers this is pretty tame stuff. Still, it is interesting to see the anti-hero precedents being set here.

For another early (c. 1900) gentleman thief series of books I'd recommend Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin series where the lead character is also quite charming and witty. ( )
  alanteder | Aug 13, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
E. W. Hornungprimary authorall editionscalculated
Green, Richard LancelynEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Macready, RoyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Penzler, OttoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rintoul, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One of the great merits of The Amateur Cracksman is that it can be read for enjoyment without the need for an introduction or for any of the scholarly apparatus which its classic status deserves.
The Ides of March
IT WAS ABOUT HALF-PAST TWELVE when I returned to the Albany as a last desperate resort.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439335, Mass Market Paperback)

The Ides of March/ A Costume Piece/ Gentlemen and Players/ Le Premier Pas/ Wilful Murder/ Nine Points of the Law/ The Return Match/ The Gift of the Emperor In these stories, Raffles, the public-school gentleman, mixes his aptitude for cricket with his passion for crime. Here we see Raffles stealing from the nouveau riche and outwitting the law, thieving diamonds and bowling like a demon, all with the help of his accomplice and ex-fag Bunny.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:49 -0400)

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In these stories, Raffles, the public-school gentleman, mixes his aptitude for cricket with his passion for crime. Here we see Raffles stealing from the nouveau riches and outwitting the law, thieving diamonds and bowling like a demon, all with the help of his accomplice and ex-fag Bunny.… (more)

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