Prince of Tricksters: The Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crook

University of Chicago Press
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Meet Netley Lucas, Prince of Tricksters—royal biographer, best-selling crime writer, and gentleman crook. In the years after the Great War, Lucas becomes infamous for climbing the British social ladder by his expert trickery—his changing names and telling of tales. An impudent young playboy and a confessed confidence trickster, he finances his far-flung hedonism through fraud and false pretenses. After repeated spells in prison, Lucas transforms himself into a confessing “ex-crook,” turning his inside knowledge of the underworld into a lucrative career as freelance journalist and crime expert. But then he’s found out again—exposed and disgraced for faking an exclusive about a murder case. So he reinvents himself, taking a new name and embarking on a prolific, if short-lived, career as a royal biographer and publisher. Chased around the world by detectives and journalists after yet another sensational scandal, the gentleman crook dies as spectacularly as he lived—a washed-up alcoholic, asphyxiated in a fire of his own making.

The lives of Netley Lucas are as flamboyant as they are unlikely. In Prince of Tricksters, Matt Houlbrook picks up the threads of Lucas’s colorful lies and lives. Interweaving crime writing and court records, letters and life-writing, Houlbrook tells Lucas’s fascinating story and, in the process, provides a panoramic view of the 1920s and ’30s. In the restless times after the Great War, the gentlemanly trickster was an exemplary figure, whose tall tales and bogus biographies exposed the everyday difficulties of knowing who and what to trust. Tracing how Lucas both evoked and unsettled the world through which he moved, Houlbrook shows how he prompted a pervasive crisis of confidence that encompassed British society, culture, and politics.

Taking readers on a romp through Britain, North America, and eventually into Africa, Houlbrook confronts readers with the limits of our knowledge of the past and challenges us to think anew about what history is and how it might be made differently.
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About the author

Matt Houlbrook is professor of cultural history at the University of Birmingham. He is the author of Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918–1957, also published by the University of Chicago Press. He lives in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jul 26, 2016
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Pages
448
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ISBN
9780226133294
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Criminals & Outlaws
History / Europe / Great Britain / General
History / General
Literary Criticism / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The historical literature of political deviance is sparse. This unusual work, chronicling the history of Jonathan Wild, represents an effort to come to terms with one of the more amazing characters of English social history. Wild was both part of the policy system in eighteenth-century England, and also one of the most adroit criminals of the age. In the 1720s, London suffered the worst crime waves in its history. Civic corruption took place on a staggering scale. The government's answer was to pay a bounty for the capture of robbers, thus creating a class of professional informers.

Wild was applauded as the most efficient thief hunter and gang breaker in British society; but his own posse of thief catchers was basically a front behind which he was able to control the underground world, through a complex system of blackmail, perjury, and terror which the book details. All who opposed him were betrayed to the law, and in the struggle for power Wild sacrificed several hundred of his own people to the hangman. No one since his time, with the exception of Lavrenti Beria of the late Stalin era GPU so nearly succeeded in bringing the underworld under the control of one system of power.

At one level, this is a biography of the world's first supercriminal. At another, it is a sociology of criminal behavior and its political consequences. Howson sheds fresh light, not only on a figure who has become famous in literature, but more important, on the entire structure of gang life. The book is written "as a "terrifying and fascinating study of a historical epoch; it also offers a completely fresh picture of the birth of modern organized-crime families as part of modern organized political systems.

‘I would have been the first miscarriage of justice… There was this spate of cases: the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four and Cardiff Three. Each one was another nail in my coffin’: Tony Stock, 2008. The story of Tony Stock is astonishing: deeply disturbing it sent out ripples of disquiet when he was sentenced to ten years for robbery at Leeds Assizes in 1970. Over the next 40 years the case went to the Court of Appeal four times and has the distinction of being the first to have been referred to that court twice by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Tony Stock died in 2012 still fighting to clear his name: spending from his meagre savings to hire private investigators and hoping beyond hope to see justice.

Reviews
‘The story of Tony Stock should be mandatory reading for everyone, not merely those involved with the laws. It concerns the quality of our criminal justice system and its serious reluctance and unwillingness to root out injustice’: Michael Mansfield QC. 
‘One of the most outrageous miscarriages of justice of modern times’: Barry Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield.

In the Press
‘If anyone seriously believes the Court of Appeal has reformed itself since the dark days of the Birmingham Six and Bridgewater Four, they should study the unreported and amazing case of Tony Stock’: Private Eye. 
‘I would have thought that the injustice done to Tony (Stock) was fairly self-evident and yet his conviction still stands. I find this very difficult to accept’: Ralph Barrington, investigations adviser at the Criminal Cases Review Commission. 
‘The fight for justice that will not die’: Yorkshire Post.
O. J. Simpson. The Central Park jogger. Bensonhurst. William Kennedy Smith. Rodney King. These are more than crimes and criminals, more than court cases. They are cultural events that, for better or worse, gave concrete expression to latent social conflicts in American society. In High-Profile Crimes, Lynn Chancer explores how these cases became conflated with larger social causes on a collective level and how this phenomenon has affected the law, the media, and social movements.

An astute and incisive chronicle of some of the most polarizing cases of the 1980s and 1990s, High-Profile Crimes shows that their landmark status results from the overlapping interaction of diverse participants. The merging of legal cases and social causes, Chancer argues, has wrought ambivalent effects on both social movements and the law. On the one hand, high-profile crimes offer important opportunities for emotional expression and raise awareness of social issues. But on the other hand, social problems cannot be resolved through the either/or determinations that are the goals of the legal system, creating frustration for those who look to the outcome of these cases for social progress. Guilt or innocence through the lens of the media leads to either defeat or victory for a social cause-a confounding situation that made the O. J. Simpson case, for example, unable to resolve the issues of domestic violence and police racism that it had come to symbolize.

Based on nearly two hundred interviews, Chancer's discussions of the infamous Central Park jogger and Bensonhurst cases-as well as the rape trials of William Kennedy Smith and Mike Tyson, the assault cases of Rodney King and Reginald Denny, and, finally, the O. J. Simpson murder trial-provide a convincing, multidimensional and innovative analysis of the most charged public dramas of the last two decades.
This collection shows the importance of a comparative European framework for understanding developments in the popular press and journalism between the wars. This was, it argues, a formative and vital period in the making of the modern press. A great deal of fine scholarship on the development of modern forms of journalism and newspapers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has emerged within discrete national histories. Yet in bringing together essays on Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Poland, this book discerns points of convergence and divergence, and the importance of the European context in shaping how news was defined, produced and consumed.

Challenging the tendency of histories of the press to foreground processes of ‘Americanisation’ and the displacement of older notions of the ‘fourth estate’ by new forms of human interest journalism, the chapters draw attention to the complex ways in which the popular press continued to be politicized throughout the interwar period. Building on this analysis, the book examines the forms, processes and networks through which newspapers were produced for public consumption. In a period of massive social, political and economic upheaval and conflict, the popular press provided a forum in which Europe’s meanings and nature could be constructed and contested. The interpersonal, material and technological links between newspapers, news corporations and news agencies in different countries served to define the outlines of Europe. Europe was called into being through the circulation of news and the practices and networks of the modern mass press traced in this volume. This publication is highly relevant to scholars of the history of journalism and cultural historians of interwar Britain and Europe.

This book was originally published as a special issue of Journalism Studies.

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