#TBT AJ Raffles, The Gentleman Thief was an 1898 Robin Hood Reboot
This might be a throwback but the idea of a gentleman thief, a man who is only permitted in aristocratic circles for his talent as a sportsman, stealing from the rich gentry in order to right the wrong of unfair wealth distribution is charmingly relevant. Apart from being a Victorian update of Robin Hood, Raffles is also part homage and part inversion of the famous Sherlock Holmes. He’s an unapologetic criminal, an anti-hero with “Bunny” Manders playing his biographer. The similarities make sense given that E.W. Hornung was Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law.
The Raffles short stories actually benefit from the social commentary on class consciousness and wealth disparity, lending the fun criminal adventure some gravitas, which is further helped along since the series starts with Raffles convincing Bunny to join in his criminal enterprises rather than commit suicide due to inescapable debt. There’s a melancholy quality to Bunny’s narration—very much in the style of Nick Carraway’s adoration for Gatsby—with a background awareness that law breakers don’t meet convivial ends. It’s light reading with a bittersweet edge.
Hornung’s Gentleman Thief stories typically divides as The Amateur Cracksman, The Black Mask, A Thief in the Night, and Mr. Justice Raffles, which are all abundantly available as collections both on Kindle and in print. There’s also a very memorable and endearing 1975 TV series, too.