HOUSE OF THIEVES
By Charles Belfoure. (Sourcebooks Landmark, 376 pages, $25.99.)
The setting is New York City in the mid-1880s. The plot revolves around John Cross, an architect on the rise, and his proper, high-society family.
One day, though, his life completely unravels. His son George, a 22-year-old Harvard grad, piles up $48,000 in gambling debts. And a gang known as Kent's Gents demands that Cross, with his connections to the wealthy, help it rob mansions and banks to settle the score.
His options: death to him and his family or cooperate. Cross discovers he's adept at being a thief.
Unbeknown to him, his other children also get involved with unsavory characters. Julia, 17, becomes enamored of a pickpocket. Charlie, 10, makes friends with a street urchin who's a petty thief. And George, despite a beating and threats from Kent's Gents, continues to bet and lose while his prostitute/lover begs him to stop.
This multilayered tale is masterfully spun by Belfoure, an architect himself. The Crosses are likable people whose eyes are opened to a whole new world. Julia and Charlie savor it. Their trapped father finds horror in it.
Eventually, even Cross' beautiful wife, Helen, gets drawn into her husband's crimes — and, oddly, their loveless marriage blossoms.
"House of Thieves" grabs you quickly and builds to a dramatic end. Along the way, you meet memorable characters, good and bad, in whom you become invested. It's a well-designed work.
Sports copy editor
By Nisid Hajari. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 328 pages, $28.)
Why would anyone need a book about the Indian partition today, nearly 70 years after it happened? The most obvious answer lies in India-Pakistan ties. The two countries have been at war three times, have continued disputes over their northernmost province of Kashmir and have border tensions. This degeneration has its roots in the partition of India, and the refugees and riots that followed.
In "Midnight's Furies," journalist Nisid Hajari embarks on a mission to connect partition with modern issues such as the Kashmir conflict, jihadism and the mainstream politics of the two countries.
Hajari knows what makes a compelling story. He brings to life the Pakistani movement's trailblazer, Jinnah, and the spearhead of Indian freedom, Nehru. Hajari explores their famous rivalry, shrewd politics and staggering personal ambitions, which were pushed under the table after the two leaders were hailed as national icons in their respective countries. He presents major historical events from the perspective of the ordinary man, one of those millions who lived through the agony but have been forgotten. Although these events come from other sources, Hajari sometimes presents them as though he was a witness, which makes his accounts interesting but less reliable.
Although Hajari gets the main picture mostly right, the book contains some minor factual inaccuracies. Hajari, who headed the foreign desk at Newsweek for many years, falls for presentism — interpreting history via today's perspectives. Hence this book is not a historian's take, but very much a journalist's. Overall, the book is meticulously researched and sends one on a fascinating journey through the bloody Indian partition.
Fellow, International Center for Journalists