House of Thieves: A Novel

House of Thieves: A Novel

by Charles Belfoure


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"Belfoure's sly, roguish writing opens a window to those living both gilded and tarnished lives... Best of all, Belfoure holds together each and every thread of the novel, resulting in a most memorable, evocative read."—Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review

Gangs of New York meets The Age of Innocence as a society architect in 1880s Manhattan is forced to join a gritty crime ring—from the author of the New York Times bestselling The Paris Architect!

The Debt Must Be Repaid — or Else

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781492633082
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 08/02/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 64,475
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Charles Belfoure is the nationally bestselling author of The Paris Architect. An architect by profession, he graduated from the Pratt Institute and Columbia University, and he taught at Pratt as well as Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. His area of specialty is historic preservation, and he has published several architectural histories, one of which won a Graham Foundation national grant for architectural research. He has been a freelance writer for The Baltimore Sun and The New York Times. He lives in Maryland. For more information, visit

Read an Excerpt


It was a perfect day to rob a bank.

The rain outside hammered the sidewalks like a monsoon. The river of delivery wagons, double-decker omnibuses, and carriages of all description that usually flowed in an unending torrent along West Thirty-Third Street had been reduced to a trickle. In place of the rush of pedestrians along the sidewalk, a few men with umbrellas hurried by the plate glass windows of the Manhattan Merchants & Trust Bank. Customers would hold off coming to the bank until the downpour stopped-and that wasn't going to happen for hours.

All of which meant fewer witnesses.

Stick Gleason looked down the barrel of his Colt Navy revolver at the people lying facedown on the shiny, white marble floor, then glanced over at Sam Potter, who was standing guard inside the massive oak-and-glass double doors of the front entrance. Potter nodded: things were going well. Though they both wore white muslin masks that hid their faces, Gleason knew Potter was smiling at him.

The woman on the floor in front of him started to whimper, reminding him of a hunting dog he'd once owned. When the dog wanted out of his crate, he'd give a high-pitched whine until Gleason couldn't stand the noise any longer and freed him. Gleason could only see the top of the woman's scarlet-colored hat, which had a slanted brim with a sort of high mound on top, like a beehive covered with yellow and green cloth flowers. Must have been a society lady.

"Keep quiet, ma'am. We'll be through in just a few minutes," Gleason said in a soothing tone, tapping the top of her hat with the barrel of his Colt. She shut up immediately.

He was getting anxious himself. "Come on, Red. How much longer?"

"Goddamn you, I told you never to rush me," Bannon said angrily, the words muffled by his muslin mask. He continued to pour the nitroglycerin drop by drop from the small glass vial into the joints of the bank vault's hinges. Beads of sweat slipped down his forehead, sliding over his eyebrows and into his eyes, making him blink uncontrollably. He kept wiping them away with his left hand.

It was dead quiet in the bank. Then Gleason heard a faint noise building quickly toward a screech, like a boiling teakettle about to blow.

"Listen, woman, I told you..."

An ear-piercing scream exploded out of the society lady's mouth. Bannon flinched-and Stick watched in horror as the glass vial slipped from his fingers and fell to the marble.

The blast was like a white-hot fireball of a meteorite, streaking from the vault room to the front windows of the bank, incinerating everything in its path. Bannon was vaporized in a millisecond, along with Gleason, the society lady, four bank tellers, two customers, and the entire wood-and-marble interior of the banking hall. Potter was propelled like a rocket into West Thirty-Third Street and through a storefront window directly south across the road.

A delivery driver and his bay horse lay dead and bloody amid the wreckage of a dray wagon. A cast-iron electric light pole was bent parallel to the street. Windows and storefronts on the south side of West Thirty-Third were blown in too, leaving black holes that seemed to gape out at the newly silent street in astonishment.

• • •

James T. Kent, standing under an umbrella on the flat roof of the eight-story Duckworth Building directly across from Manhattan Merchants & Trust, watched as a great plume of black smoke billowed up from West Thirty-Third Street, drifting past him and blending into the gray sky. The street below was a mass of confusion, with people running toward the building from all directions. The clanging of fire wagons could be heard in the distance. There won't be any need for them, Kent thought. The blast had sucked the oxygen out of the space, which meant no fire.

From his vantage point, the men on the street looked like ants scurrying in and out of the blasted opening of the bank. They'll find no bodies, he thought. Only tiny pieces of human flesh and bone.

"Poor bastards," said Ben Culver, a short, stout, broad-shouldered man.

"It was the nitro," Kent said, not a shred of emotion in his voice. "Handling it is like trying to hold quicksilver-almost impossible. But still better than using dynamite. Remember Maritime National? The cash, negotiable bonds, and stock certificates, all burned to ashes by the blast. It took Red hours to sweat out that nitro from a dozen sticks of dynamite. He said blowing the vault would be the easy part."

"We'll never replace Bannon, Mr. Kent."

"No, we won't. Red was the best cracksman in New York." Kent took a cigar out of his gold case with his black-gloved hand and tapped it idly against his palm.

"These vaults are too damn hard to blow in the daytime, Mr. Kent. Bank jobs are just too risky anyhow. The Company has to..."


"Yeah, that's it."

"I agree," said Kent with a smile. "What do you suggest?"

Kent was a tall, thin man in his early forties, with graying hair and a commanding presence. He always wore a black frock coat with matching waistcoat and pearl-gray trousers, all ordered from Henry Poole & Co., the best tailor in London. He had schooled Culver, whose previous wardrobe could charitably be described as loud, in dress. A gentleman, he'd said, must always be so well dressed that his clothes are never observed at all.

Culver valued this advice almost as much as his cut from their jobs. These days, he was as elegantly clothed as his employer, though the juxtaposition of his battered and meaty red face with his fine, tailored outfits frequently struck one as very odd.

"The army's stopped guarding President Grant's grave in Riverside Park," he said, brimming over with his excitement at offering a new business proposition. "They just have a night watchman. They haven't started building the real tomb over it either, so we could snatch the body and hold it for ransom. Like they did with A. T. Stewart back in '78. His widow forked over twenty thousand dollars for the body. For a department store king! Think how much we'd get for a United States president."

"I can find only two things wrong with your plan," Kent said amiably. "First, I served proudly under Grant in the war. And's incredibly stupid."

He smiled and patted Culver on the shoulder, as if to lessen the sting of his words. A disappointed expression twisted Culver's face, and he looked down at his expensive, black patent leather shoes-the ones Kent had advised him to purchase. Culver wasn't the brightest, but he was absolutely the most loyal employee of the Company, and Kent genuinely liked him.

"I know those men had families," he said, pulling out his tan pigskin wallet and removing ten one-hundred-dollar bills. "Please divide this among them."

"That's very kind of you, Mr. Kent."

Kent extracted his Gorham solid-gold pocket watch from his waistcoat and frowned. "The annual board of directors meeting for the Metropolitan Museum is at eleven. I'd best get going."

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