This will probably sound silly, but my immediate reaction to Shayne Davidson’s biography of 19th-century pickpocket extraordinaire Sophie Lyons was excitement over the citations. Every fact had a superscripted number with a corresponding endnote!!
In all seriousness, though, those citations represent Davidson’s extensive research into the life of Sophie Lyons and meticulous attention to documentation of sources. This is history scholarship you can trust.
At the same time, the writing is very engaging. I would go so far as to say conversational, which made for a smooth and enjoyable read. I also appreciated the interior layout of the book with plenty of boldface headings to keep the complexities of Sophie’s life and times from getting confusing.
Sophie Lyons was born in 1848 in Bavaria. She emigrated to the United States at the age of eight. Although she would claim in her 1913 autobiography that “crime does not pay,” when she died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1924, she left a substantial estate behind.
The following quotation from the introduction of Queen of the Burglars will give readers interested in picking up the book a good sense of what is in store:
“[Sophie] robbed banks, married bank robbers, seduced wealthy men (then blackmailed them), escaped from Sing Sing Prison, ran with a gang of thieves in New York, and committed crimes on two continents.”
Each chapter of Queen of the Burglars starts with an epigraph from Lyons’ autobiography, Why Crime Does Not Pay. I just found several full-text copies of Why Crime Does Not Pay on Internet Archive. I plan to read Sophie’s book; however, forewarned by Davidson’s scholarship, I plan to read it as a work of fiction.
A Swedish Mugshot
From Shayne Davidson: That wonderful mugshot was taken in Stockholm in 1912. Sophie had gone to Sweden to try and visit her husband, Billy Burke, who had been imprisoned there after being convicted of grand larceny. She was arrested as a “suspicious person” but not charged with a crime. That was the final mugshot taken of Sophie. It was only put online fairly recently.
The Rest of the Story???