July 2024

A Gentleman and a Thief

By Dean Jobb
Review by
You can’t help but root for the glamorous gentleman jewel thief at the center of Dean Jobb’s immersive true crime saga, the aptly titled A Gentleman and a Thief.
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The media obsession that followed jewel thief Arthur Barry in the 1920s and ’30s looks familiar today, as true crime podcasts and TikTok “investigators” descend on the buzziest, splashiest cases, ethics and tact be damned.

The crimes of Barry, detailed in Dean Jobb’s A Gentleman and a Thief: The Daring Jewel Heists of a Jazz Age Rogue, typically did not cause too much harm (with notable exceptions). He targeted the fabulously wealthy in and around Jazz Age New York City. “Anyone who could afford to wear a $100,000 necklace could afford to lose it,” he said, predating the similar ethos of Cary Grant’s character in To Catch a Thief.  

Jobb’s book tells Barry’s full story, from his hardscrabble youth to service in World War I to the crimes that made him famous. At times, it can feel that the buildup is too thorough, too slow, but the narrative soon gets a move on. The story of Barry’s escalating crimes—from robbing normal rich bankers in the suburbs to casing literal royals ensconced in an opulent estate—followed by his inevitable downfall, is breezily told. Even after he is caught (how investigators fingered him for the crimes is not entirely clear here), the story is not over, as Barry can’t help but find the limelight again. 

Barry’s escapades have elements of our favorite fictional thieves and con men. He palled around with a future king and the Long Island set that inspired The Great Gatsby. Though he comes off as glamorous and charismatic, Barry was no Robin Hood: He stole millions of dollars’ worth of precious gems, only to quickly spend almost all of his proceeds on luxury cars, blowout nights on the town and gambling sprees. 

Too bad today’s omnipresent surveillance would make it nearly impossible to walk into the Plaza Hotel and walk out with someone’s famous jewels, and not immediately be tracked down. 

But Barry could. At least for a while.

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