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Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Spectator Review, 14 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Raffles: Omnibus of Books 1-3 (Kindle Edition)
There is honour among thieves. Richard Foreman's reinvention of A.J. Raffles is underscored by morality of sorts. The exploitative rich are robbed, habitual criminals are caught, and men of true nobility triumph -- or at least do not suffer the indignity of having their baubles snaffled by our silver-tongued felons. At the centre of Richard Foreman's three-storied omnibus is the close and criminal relationship between Raffles and Harry `Bunny' Manders.

Raffles, for those of who do not know him, is a debonair rogue -- a sparkling bon vivant with penchants for cricket and larceny. He is known as `the amateur cracksman', which is misleading because he is an astonishingly expert thief. Foreman has him locking horns with Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes over an intemperate cabinet minister, plundering a shady American nouveau riche, and planning to lighten the former Prime Minister, Lord Roseberry, of some priceless and sentimental heirlooms. All the while, he is embarrassing the insufferable WG Grace on the cricket pitch, boozing with C.B. Fry, and bedding both the better and worse halves of London. It's tremendous, easy going fun.

Foreman is careful not to bastardise E.W. Hornung's famous creation. His Raffles is recognisable and becomes more rounded as Foreman hits his stride over the course of the trilogy. The allusions to cricket overwhelm the character at first, but these soon subside and Raffles can be understood through something other than his enviable batting average.

Perhaps it's my imagination, but Foreman gives himself more latitude with Bunny. This is the one area where Foreman's Raffles differs from Hornung's: he is not so cruel to his timid accomplice, who grows in stature (and cunning) over the books. Bunny is an attentive reporter of late Victorian society and a very companionable narrator. His voice is sympathetic and lit with wit. While Raffles has the best lines, Bunny has the best pen. He'd give Dr Watson a run for his money in that regard, if not in a ruck against Blackheath Rugby Club.

Watson was chided by Holmes for seeing rather than observing. But Watson was very observant when it came to pretty young women. Indeed, he was so observant as to be susceptible to them. Bunny is no different, although his self-effacing charm makes him more successful than artless Dr Watson in the game of love.

Foreman's stories feature several strident women. These strong-willed characters are well drawn, and Foreman avoids patronising late Victorian society or imposing anachronistic values. He is much too interested in his characters and plots to divert attention to great issues of the day. Suffragettes spar with men over dining tables, but Raffles merely rolls his twinkling eyes and does not consider the issue beyond quipping that one of his sexual targets has `joined the suffragettes, but no one's perfect.' Period detail need not require a period piece.
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