On the eve of World War I a string of pink pearls worth a small fortune disappears somewhere between Paris and London. Molly Caldwell Crosby’s The Great Pearl Heist is the story of those pearls, the men and women who stole them and the Scotland Yard detectives tasked to get them back.
I was attracted to this book because I have a soft spot for real life Professor Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes like characters. In this case it was Joseph Grizzard and Alfred Ward. Grizzard grew up in the Whitechapel slum of London to become one of England’s greatest Fences (a combination receiver of stolen goods, investor in criminal enterprises and gang leader) specializing in stolen jewels. Ward, like Grizzard, grew up in a London slum (St Pancras) but joined Scotland Yard and rose to be one of its greatest detectives and Grizzard’s nemesis.
One of the things that fascinated me about this book was that it is made for lovers of Downton Abbey but at the same time a kind of anti-Downton Abbey. People who love the landscape of early 20th Century England will love this book. It is a beautifully painted world of smog filed London streets lit by gas lamps, grand restaurants with painted tiled walls and floors covered in Persian carpets and street markets where immigrant jewelers sell their wears in a multitude of languages. However, you won’t find any aristocrats here, except occasionally when they are being robed. This story plays out among the lower classes of London’s slums, the nouveau riche businessmen dealing in pearls and diamonds and the thieves that preyed on them. It is the combination of this rich landscape and the larger than life characters of Grizzard and his gang and the detectives of Scotland Yard that makes the story. And the best part you are never sure who is going to win.