A Hard Rock Life.

Book Review for “Queen of Thieves” by Beezy Marsh.

Summary: London, 1946. The city struggles to rebuild itself after the devastation of the Blitz. Food is rationed, good jobs are scarce, and even the most honest families are forced to take a bit of “crooked” just to survive. Alice Diamond, the Queen of Thieves, rules over her all-female gang with a bejeweled fist. Her “hoisters” are expert shoplifters, the scourge of London’s upscale boutiques and departments stores. Their lucrative business stealing and fencing luxury goods always carries the threat of violence; Alice packs a razor, and has been known to use her heavy rows of diamond rings like brass knuckles. Young Nell is a teenager from the slums, hiding a secret pregnancy and facing a desperately uncertain future when Alice takes her under her wing. Before long, Nell is experiencing all the dangers–and glamourous trappings–that comes with this underworld existence. Alice wants Nell to be a useful weapon in her ongoing war against crime boss Billy Sullivan’s gang of rival thieves. But Nell has a hidden agenda of her own, and is not to be underestimated. The more she is manipulated by both Alice and Billy, the more her hunger for revenge grows. As Nell embraces the rich spoils of crime and the seedy underbelly of London, will she manage to carve out her own path to power and riches? Might she even crown herself the Queen of Thieves?”

Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Historical, UK – London; Other Categories: Novel, Biographical, Thriller.

Queen of Thieves

Apparently, Alice Diamond is a hot personality right now. I’m sure that she’s been the subject of a few novels in the past, but the first novel I know of is “The Forty Elephants” by Erin Bledsoe. Now there’s this one, and apparently, Heather Webb is also writing a novel about her (due out in 2024, I believe). Thankfully, each of these seem to focus on something a bit different. Bledsoe’s novel is about Alice’s earlier criminal career, including how she got involved with the Elephants and took over leading the gang. Webb tells me that she intends for her book to focus on the later part of Alice’s career. Since Alice passed away in 1952, and this book starts in 1946, there might be some overlap between this and Webb’s novel. However, in this one, Alice’s story is interspersed with a totally fictional character in Nell, one of Alice’s newest recruits. In fact, while this novel starts by introducing Alice, as the story continues, it feels more like this novel is about Nell than it is about Alice. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with that, and it makes for quite a different book than Bledsoe’s.

You should know that there were a few things that bothered me about this book. One was that Marsh refers to the gang as the “Forty Thieves.” However, from both Wikipedia and Bledsoe’s book, we know that this gang was known as the Forty Elephants (coming from the Elephant & Castle area of London). Okay, that’s not a big deal, but it did irk me occasionally. Plus, according to Wikipedia, Alice was the oldest of her siblings, but Marsh gave her an older brother. I get she needed that character, but he didn’t have to be her brother. Still, because Marsh transitioned away from Alice and towards Nell, I guess biographical accuracy regarding Alice was less important. Even so, there were a couple of other things that didn’t sit quite right with me. For example, while probably quite accurate, I think Marsh was a bit heavy handed with all the dated slang, and not all of them were obvious to understand. Also, Chrysler didn’t sell cars anywhere in Europe before 1968. Finally, there were a couple of scenes which were… um… a bit too intimately graphic for my taste, but they were thankfully short (which also says a lot about the lack of sexual prowess of the men involved). Oh, but she did get the weather right; that winter was historically difficult.

Now, in order for Marsh’s story to work, she also had to make Alice not only a talented shoplifter and gang leader, but also a heartless dictator. From both Bledsoe’s book I don’t think that was the actual case. Sure, she was tough and could fight, but I don’t think she was that mean or outright cruel. However, as I said before, this is more of a story of revenge than a biographical fiction novel about a real woman. Even so, I’m not all that happy with this portrayal, and while Nell starts out sweet, she also doesn’t end up being any more sympathetic to the reader.

I realize that you may be reading all this and thinking I hated this book, but that’s just not true. Yes, there are quite a few anachronisms, far too much era-appropriate slang, and several other things that rubbed me the wrong way, but I kept reading to the end. That means it must have some redeeming factors. First of all, I really enjoyed Marsh’s writing style. It had an edgy quality to it that fit in perfectly with the criminals she was portraying, and the post WWII setting. Admittedly, Marsh totally knows how to plot a story and build tension, which makes this a real page turner, and that compelled me to the very end. So, with all this, I can warmly this to someone looking for an historical fiction thriller, but if you’re looking for one that’s accurate regarding the times and/or Alice Diamond, I’d say pick up Bledsoe’s book (or wait for Heather Webb’s upcoming novel). All things considered, I believe this all boils down to a rating of three and a half stars out of five (but I believe we’ll see lots of 5/5 stars from less persnickety readers).

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30483411-0-Edelweiss-Reviewer-BHarper Collins – William Morrow released “Queen of Thieves” by Beezy Marsh on January 4, 2023 (but I now see there was an earlier version as well). This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell‘s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.

This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#1), Historical Fiction Reading Challenge (#1), What’s In A Name (#1 – I think I’ll use this one for the Q,X,Z category, since I have another ARC for the Chess Piece one.)

 

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14 thoughts on “A Hard Rock Life.

      1. That’s true, but how far facts are played with or truth is bent does affect my enjoyment. That’s why I The Christie Affair for instance didn’t wholly work for me though it was a well told tale.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Did you try Marie Benedict’s The Mystery of Mrs. Christie? If not, I think you should. She really doesn’t fiddle with any known facts and just imagines things to fill in the holes. She might actually be right, or totally off base. But it doesn’t matter.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. No, not yet. Thanks for mentioning it. In the Nina de Gramont book, I felt in fictionalizing Nancy Neele and giving her a different story, she had to bend facts too much; This would have worked if she’d fictionalized Christie too, I think.

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  1. Thank you for being persnickety. I agree that a sprinkling of era appropriate vocabulary works much better than flooding prose with it. If writing begins to be awkward to read, then it’s too much. Also some of the details, like the bit about the cars and the gang name sound like they needed a bit more thought. I wonder how many arguments with the content editor there were about them? Maybe not enough.

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  2. Ah, I knew this sounded familiar, Davida! I remember your review of The Forty Elephants. I had not heard of Alice Diamond and remember being interested. I can see why this would be a popular subject. Thanks for reviewing this one too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Welcome! I’m looking forward to see what Heather Webb writes. I’m sure I’ll get the ARC… she is now a personal friend whom I’ve met in real life. She was one of the mentors we had during my week in Ireland.

      Liked by 1 person

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