In this third and final collection of short stories about gentleman burglar A. J. Raffles, the criminal mastermind's sidekick and chronicler—known to us only by his schoolboy nickname "Bunny," until the final story in this book reveals his given name to be Harry—looks back over both halves of his idolized friend's house-breaking career. You'll have already read how it began in The Amateur Cracksman, from the start of their partnership until Raffles escapes justice over the side of a ship and is presumed dead, leaving Bunny to pay for their crimes in prison. Then, in the second collection, The Black Mask, you'll have been introduced to their later career, after Bunny gets out of the clink and Raffles returns from the drink, up to the latter's death in the Boer War.
Obviously there could never be a third phase of Raffles' development of the art of burglary. So in this collection, Bunny fills in some episodes he previously skipped over—mostly in their earlier phase, when Raffles was still cracking safes under the cover of a professional cricketer. As in the earlier sets, these stories are the antithesis of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries created by Hornung's close friend Arthur Conan Doyle. We know from the start "who done it," but the interest of the story lies in whether and how they got away with it.
The collection starts with "Out of Paradise," an early heist in which Bunny's romantic entanglement with one of the victims put a strain on his friendship with Raffles. "The Chest of Silver" is a trunk that Bunny deposits in his bank's strong-room at Raffles' request, supposedly to keep their swag from drawing police notice while the master thief is lying low. In actual fact, the trunk contains Raffles himself, in perhaps his daringest heist ever. In "The Rest Cure," Raffles and Bunny hide out in a house whose owners are summering in Switzerland. The man of the house comes back unexpectedly and catches Bunny in the middle of a cross-dressing prank, putting the pair in peril of becoming murderers as well as house-breakers. In "The Criminologists' Club," Raffles outwits a group of drawing-room sleuths, seemingly pulling off a burglary in one room while they're interrogating him in the other. "The Field of Philippi" takes Raffles and Bunny back to the old school, where they first rob a banker and then trick him into donating to a fund he vehemently opposed.
"A Bad Night" relates Bunny's disastrous attempt to do a job on his own, while Raffles is supposedly occupied with cricket. "A Trap to Catch a Cracksman" tells how Bunny and Raffles turn the tables on a prizefighter, even after Raffles falls right into the boxer's burglar trap. "The Spoils of Sacrilege" is a heist of the upstairs region of Bunny's boyhood home, while the family now living there is having a party downstairs. In this case, Bunny's intimate knowledge of the house's layout plays against his last lingering moral qualms. Moving forward to the end of Raffles' career, when the celebrated thief is widely believed to be dead, "The Raffles Relics" relates a raid on a museum collection of his break-in tools—at Scotland Yard! And finally, "The Last Word" closes the loop with a letter from the Bunny's ex-fiancée, who last saw him fleeing the burglary of her own house—now suggesting, after Bunny's war-wounded homecoming from South Africa, that they may yet have a future together.
These ten stories fill in the gaps between Raffles' celebrated crimes with more eye-sparklingly clever, funny, surprising, suspenseful, and action-filled adventures. Some of them have a touch of melancholy as well. If you haven't made Raffles' acquaintance yet, you may be surprised at what light reading they make. Other than a few lines of sporting slang vintage 1905 or so, which you may find frankly incomprehensible, these tales are still quite readable—built to last, and full of appeal. You may want to check them out, at least, so as to better understand other authors' references to Raffles, especially British writers in the early 20th century. He is, after all, the proverbial paragon of the gentleman burglar, paving the way for such entertainments as the "Dortmunder" series by Donald E. Westlake. Any of Hornung's three short-story collections would be an equally good place to start. All of them are available for free on Kindle. Plus, there is also a Raffles novel, titled Mr. Justice Raffles.
Saint Louis USA
Recommended Age: 13+
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