Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Books for the News, Sociology

The Prince of Tricksters at the Guardian


From a recent review of Matt Houlbrook’s The Prince of Tricksters: The Incredible True Story of Netley Lucas, Gentleman Crookat the Guardian:

Between 1917 and 1924, Lucas was taken to court five times. In a society of strangers, his crimes were subversive, suggesting all you needed was money and the veneer of class to pass yourself off as a gentleman. For historian Matt Houlbrook, Lucas’s life story reveals deeper truths about the period after the first world war. He cites the criminologist Henry Rhodes: “Show me your crimes and I will show you the nature of your society.” New forms of mass culture and democracy promised greater possibilities of personal reinvention: “Lucas’s crimes were unusual, but his aspirations echoed those of countless ordinary men and women in a period when advertising encouraged dreamlike fantasies of social mobility.” . . .

Lucas drank himself into an early grave in 1940. Few mourned the passing of the man known as the “prince of tricksters.” Even Houlbrook acknowledges that Lucas was a “lying bastard.” But he can’t help but be beguiled by this extraordinary character: “I’m obsessed with making sense of you.” Lucas is an exquisitely slippery subject and Houlbrook admits that “my writing echoes the uncertainties of Lucas’s lives.” But this is far more than a biography. It is a portrait of a period in transition which Houlbrook describes as an “age of disguise.” His book is theoretically aware, meticulously researched and brimming with insights into both the interwar years and this unscrupulous yet remarkable figure for whom identity was as fluid and fleeting as quicksilver.

To read the Guardian review in full, click here.

To read more about The Prince of Tricksters, click here.