Posted in Book Release, excerpt, fiction, Historical, Spotlight on September 15, 2015

house of thieves

Charles Belfoure’s debut novel, The Paris Architect (2013), was a national bestseller, an indie next pick, a national reading group month select, and received stellar praise from booksellers, librarians, authors and critics.

Belfoure’s forthcoming novel, HOUSE OF THIEVES (ON-SALE: September 15; 978192617891; $25.99; Hardcover), is set in 1886 New York City, where a society architect is forced to join a criminal gang and plan robberies of the buildings he’s designed, in order to pay off his son’s gambling debts.

John Cross needs money, and he needs it fast—and New York City’s most dangerous kingpin insists that robbing John’s rich circle of friends is the only way John can pay off his substantial debt.    John’s talent as an architect provides him with access and opportunity—if he can just keep his secret life from his family, he can end this very quickly.   But John didn’t count on the thrill that came from engineering the perfect steal… or that his wife and children would possess the same talents.

House of Thieves is a fascinating look at the two poles of New York society in the late 19th century, from the extreme opulence of the Knickerbocker society to the opium dens and whorehouses of the criminal underworld. It also presents an exciting new twist on the intriguing architecture angle that drew readers to The Paris Architect.



Chapter 7

Mr. Cross, I want you to know that I’m not angry at you for what you did. But I will be less lenient if something like that should happen again.”

Kent reminded Cross of a schoolmaster sitting in his wood-paneled office, reprimanding a recalcitrant student. Cross himself sat stiffly, balanced on the edge of the settee, watching Kent pour tea. Aunt Caroline would have envied the quality of the silver. In a multitiered stand on the tea table were a variety of pastries, but Cross had lost all appetite since the delivery of the ice that morning.

The Dakota was like a huge European château, a riot of steep gables, turrets, finials, and dormers clad in olive–colored stone and salmon–colored brick. Its sheer enormity was amplified by its position on the Upper West Side, surrounded by vacant lots and shacks. It gave the impression of a mountain that had risen out of nowhere; from Central Park, it reminded one of a fortress in the middle of an enchanted forest, like in a fairy tale.

Despite its far–flung location, it had quickly become a highly fashionable place to live. Kent’s apartment was magnificent. He and Cross sat in a beautiful library lined with floor–to–ceiling bookshelves. A vista of Central Park stretched across the tall windows behind them.

“How many lumps do you take?”

“Two, no milk.”

Kent handed him his cup and settled back in his green overstuffed velvet armchair. He sipped his tea with a look of great pleasure.

“Quite a place, Mr. Cross, hmm? Like living in a palace without having to own it.”

Cross didn’t reply.

At that moment, the front door to the apartment opened. A short, elegantly dressed woman with chestnut–colored hair entered, followed by three small children.

“Mr. Cross, meet my wife and children,” Kent said in a jolly voice. “Hello, Millicent. How was the outing?”

“Oh, wonderful. The children so loved the ponies.”

Cross rose and smiled at the beautiful woman, who beamed back at him.

“It’s such a pleasure, Mr. Cross,” Millicent said.

“Mr. Cross is a new business associate. And these rascals are Bill, Henry, and Abigail.”

The children, all of whom were well dressed and well mannered, bowed to Cross and then raced off in three different directions.

“If you’ll excuse us, my dear, Mr. Cross and I have business to discuss. Tonight at dinner, you must tell me all about your day. I wish I’d been there.” Kent followed his wife out, closed the sliding doors, and returned to his seat. “I’m so glad we were able to come to an understanding, Mr. Cross,” he said. “I’m sure we can do business together.”

“Nothing is to happen to my son,” Cross said.

“Or Helen, Granny, Charlie, and Julia—-as long as you keep
our agreement.”

Cross was visibly shaken. After that morning, he knew what this man was capable of. Kent would kill his entire family without batting an eye. He was sure of it.

“I enjoy doing business with a family man,” Kent said amiably. “There’s so much collateral.”

“Where is George?”

“In very pleasant circumstances. I’ll notify him that his debt is forgiven, but I won’t tell him of our arrangement. Don’t worry—-if you keep your end of the bargain, he’ll never know. George will be back in his apartment in a few days. I just hope he can deal with his ‘little weakness.’ You do know there are hundreds of gambling dens in New York City besides mine. But that’s your problem now.”

Cross blinked. In all the confusion, he hadn’t thought about that.

“Let me explain how our business arrangement will work,” Kent said, setting down his teacup. “You will choose buildings you’ve designed that contain articles of great value—-cash, stock certificates, gold, merchandise such as expensive clothing, fine linen, silverware, and jewelry. You will help me plan each robbery by giving me drawings of these places and telling me where items worth stealing can be found. And after each robbery, the value of the goods will be deducted from George’s debt.”

“Promise me that, once it’s paid back, I’m free of this.”

“Why of course. I don’t think you’re cut out for a life of crime, Mr. Cross.” Kent gave him a wink. “But you are a talented architect. That Chandler Building—-and those tall arches! I envy your talent. I wish I could do something like that.”

Cross was silent. Coming from this merciless bastard, it hardly felt like a compliment.

“The next step will be for you to take some time—-one week, say—-to choose a building. Then we will meet to discuss whether your plan is feasible. It takes a criminal eye to evaluate these things,” Kent said. “You’ll want to pay off the debt immediately, of course. But for our first effort, let’s choose something modest. And bring copies of the drawings. I understand that with the new blueprinting process, it will be easy for you.”

Kent was sharp. Only a few years ago, copies of architectural drawings had to be traced over by hand, a long and tedious process. But with the introduction of blueprinting, all that had changed. Now, a photosensitive coating could be applied to a sheet of paper, which would be placed behind the original linen drawing. The contraption was put in a wood frame that sat out in the sun, developing a perfect image on the paper like a photograph.

“Yes,” Cross said, nodding. “I can bring you your own copies of
the drawings.”

“From now on, it’s better to meet elsewhere. You’ll be told where to go and when.” Kent rose from his chair. The meeting was over. “Please don’t think me rude, but I have a Presbyterian Hospital board meeting in an hour over on East Seventy–Second,” Kent said apologetically as he escorted Cross to the foyer. “But before you go, you must see my latest treasure.”

He led Cross to a large oak table with carved legs and removed a heavy sheet of paper, revealing what looked like a very old, yellowed parchment.

“An early eighth–century illuminated manuscript from France. Isn’t it magnificent?”

Though Cross didn’t give a damn, he pretended to be impressed out of courtesy. After taking a respectful amount of time to examine the gold–leaf–flecked pages, he nodded and walked toward the library doors.

“Henceforth, Mr. Cross, you must learn to think like a criminal. Coming from your background, that may be difficult,” Kent said as he slid open the paneled doors.

“It didn’t seem to be an obstacle for you.”

Kent gave a roar of laughter. “I suppose Griffith told you all about me. True, Princeton didn’t give me much training for my line of work. You’re a Harvard man?”

Cross nodded.

“A satisfactory school, but they have no eating clubs, unlike Princeton. So uncivilized,” he said. “Do take a look around the building before you go. You’ll find it most interesting.”

“I walked through right before it opened. The architect, Henry Hardenbergh, is a friend of mine. It’s a remarkable building,” Cross said softly, looking up at the ceiling. “The best apartment building in the city. I wish I had done it.”

Praise for the book

“Belfoure’s sly, roguish writing opens a window to those living both gilded and tarnished lives… Best of all, Belfoure holds together each and every thread of the novel, resulting in a most memorable, evocative read.”—Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

“Belfoure displays a brisk prose style, well-developed plot, and interesting architectural details… a roisterous, supremely entertaining adventure.”—Booklist, STARRED review

“A pulse-raising read for historical crime and historical thriller fans.”—Library Journal

“an entertaining excursion through Gilded Age New York with all the right architectural details.” —Kirkus

Publishers Weekly Show Daily Profile (5/28); Publishers Weekly 10 Books to Grab at BEA (5/27)

Library Journal PrePub Alert (4/20); Publishers Weekly Author Profile (7/27)

“House of Thieves grabs you from the first lines and explosive opening pages, pulling you right into a time and place—just how our favorite historical novels always do.”—Matthew Pearl, NYT bestselling author of The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Bookaneer

“The world of old New York comes alive in this beguiling tale of mystery and intrigue. Danger and drama abide with vivid and dramatic description that allows the reader to easily conjure up the imaginary—as if watching a film—wrapped totally in the writer’s world. Charles Belfoure definitely has the touch.”—Steve Berry, NYT bestselling author of The Patriot Threat and The Lincoln Myth

“Charles Belfoure has written my favorite kind of novel. HOUSE OF THIEVES is the story of a family coming together in the most exceptional and peculiar way. Rich in mischief and populated by thieves and gamblers, gentry and rebels, it is as complex and ambitious as New York City itself. This is historical fiction at its best.”—Ariel Lawhon, author of the THE WIFE, THE MAID, AND THE MISTRESS

Gangs of New York meets The Age of Innocence in House of Thieves…”— Susan Elia MacNeal, New York Times bestselling author Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

“House of Thieves was great fun… Charles Belfoure continually offers an unusual perspective on the calling of architecture.”— Becky Milner, Vintage Books (Vancouver, WA)

About the Author

Charles Belfoure is the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Architect and is an architect by profession, with a specialty in historical preservation. He graduated from the Pratt Institute and Columbia University, and has written several architectural histories.

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