I have to admit that I didn’t jump on the Downton Abbey craze right away. I had heard about the show and how good it was, but I just didn’t get around to watching it. I don’t watch a lot of television anyway, so not picking up a new show wasn’t too much of surprise. Besides, it took me at least a year to figure out that it wasn’t called Downtown Abbey.
And then one night I was restless so I decided to look it up on Netflix. You know the problem with Netflix, right? Binge-watching. I watched the first episode and then the entire first and second seasons, in two days. If my memory serves me correctly, I completely neglected the rest of my life—meals, bathing, sleeping—in lieu of my new favorite aristocrats. I was an addict.
One of the things I love most about the show is its historical accuracy. The attention to detail in the set and clothing, as well as the events of the time period, is admirable. I also chuckle at all the house and societal rules. Who knew that everything was so proper? Proper attire, proper behaviour, proper dinner settings: no wonder higher education wasn’t an expectation for women of the time—it must have taken years for them to learn the etiquette. And God help the person who makes a mistake. Apparently being shunned from society was absolutely the worst thing that could happen to an aristocrat… next to losing the family fortune, of course.
In House of Thieves, the Cross family knows well the conventions—and price—of living in high society. They aren’t absurdly rich, but their distant relation to the Astor family, the wealthiest family in 1880’s New York City, guarantees an open invitation to the grandiose lifestyle. They attend the teas, parties and events of every important family in the city, and they behave exactly as is expected for ones of their stature. Or so everyone assumes.
John Cross had no idea his son George was an excessive gambler until he is approached by the city’s most notorious gangster, James T. Kent. Apparently, George’s little habit has earned him an astronomical debt and now it is time to pay up or pay the deadly price. John learns quickly, and roughly, that rules don’t matter when money is at stake.
But John can’t cover the debt so he takes the one outstanding offer that will save his son’s life. High society be damned—John’s hands are about to get dirty.
As a prominent architect, John has designed many of the wealthy homes and buildings throughout the city. As Kent sees it, John’s the perfect asset to his gang.
John works diligently to keep his son alive and his family’s name unblemished, but as Kent’s demands become more impulsive, John feels his carefully balanced life start to crumble. His brother—a NYC detective—has been assigned to the recent rash of robberies, his wife has a new-found pleasure in their life of crime and his younger two children are poking around the underbelly of the city while George succumbs to temptation again and again.
The Cross family has everything to lose: money, social standing and their very lives. But what is a gamble without the risk?
Charles Belfoure is an architect by profession and a freelance writer for the Baltimore Sun and the New York Times. House of Thieves is his second novel.