Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung


Ignorance is a many-sided toy, with bulky edges that stick awkwardly into your skin, giving you a nagging feeling that something is wrong when you put it in your pocket. That may be why, when you scurry along…oh heavens, this metaphor started badly and is getting worse. What I’m trying to say, which must be obvious to the dimmest child, is that I had always assumed A.J. Raffles, fictional gentleman thief, was the Raffles who gives his name to all those swanky places around Singapore. However, a quick glance at Wikipedia tells me this would in fact be Stamford Raffles*, the (real) ‘founder of modern Singapore’. How fortunate I am never to have revealed this blooper in dinner party conversation: the stigma would have been bally unbearable. Raffles and his sidekick Bunny lived in peril of this sort of exposure, daily. That’s Raffles (A.J.) not Raffles (Stamford). The reason they always felt people might be about to collar them was because they were…well, gentlemen thieves. Actually, Bunny is a bit of a sadsack who Raffles deceives into doing a first blag and from then he is hooked on a life of quiet crime. Raffles is the brains – and in this first collection of short stories, E.W Hornung presented the public school cad as a sort of anti-Sherlock Holmes (the series written by Hornung’s brother-in-law Arthur Conan Doyle). Not really sure that this comparison holds much water since Holmes was hardly a sturdy citizen himself: drug addict, borderline autistic, violin player – the man was a menace to polite society, which is why he had a unique job which involved thinking like the biggest villains imaginable and just a single friend who would put up with him. Raffles’ exploits have a vague, firesidey charm. He doesn’t always win – and in The Gift Of The Emperor, the final story in Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman he is put into a particularly tight spot. There’s a cliffhanger but I’m guessing he escapes.

*Hope Wikipedia is correct on this, otherwise my ignorance parade has merely added another loud, colourful float to it, full of dancing penguins with a soundsystem playing My Heart Will Go On so you can’t fail to spot it


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