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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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08/20/2004 Archived Entry: "Book Review: Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief"

Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief
by Bill Mason with Lee Gruenfeld
Villard Books
365 pages

Review by Tom Good

"To Catch A Thief" made jewel thieves cool. "The Pink Panther" made them funny. Bill Mason makes them real. So how does a real life "cat burglar" operate?

"I examined the lock with a practiced eye, suavely whipped out my butter calfskin wallet and carefully selected a pick from a row of variously sized tools. Once I'd done that, it was simply a matter of inserting the gleaming pick into the lock and jiggling it a few times as I looked away and let my sensitive fingers do their thing. Three or four seconds later I was rewarded with a loud and satisfying click as the lock succumbed to my extraordinary expertise.

"Just kidding. In real life, picking a lock is a bitch. Even when it works, which isn't all that often, it takes a long time to get each of the pins lined up just so, one at a time without disturbing the ones you've already worked.

"[. . .] there are faster and surer ways to defeat the lock."

Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief tells the story of one of the most successful jewel thieves in American history, a man who stole not because he needed the money, but as something like a very unorthodox hobby. This allowed him more flexibility, which in turn reduced his chances of getting caught. He could afford to wait years after a robbery to fence the proceeds, or back out of a job if it looked too risky.

Like a magician explaining his tricks, Mason reveals his methods, which are often startling in their simplicity. Mason never cartwheeled over laser beams while wearing night vision goggles, but he did come across a lot of unlocked doors, unarmed alarms, and poorly thought out security measures. He was a strong climber who felt at home scaling walls, and an even better planner who found creative solutions to difficult problems. His research before a job could last months while he learned people's habits and planned for every possible outcome. The stories behind these thefts make for highly entertaining reading, so I will not spoil any of the surprises here.

The generally brisk narrative starts to drag a bit when Mason goes into detail about his personal life. But then again, whose domestic life is as exciting as a daring theft from a Mafia-owned safe? Mason's genius for committing unsolved thefts did not extend to staying out of trouble in general, though. Once the police started paying close attention to him, he could not resist taunting them, a habit which ultimately led to disaster. And Mason's eventual downfall helps keep the reader from becoming unhealthily attracted to his hobby.

Confessions of a Master Jewel Thief is exciting, funny, and offers a glimpse into an unfamiliar world. It has all the ingredients of ideal summer reading.

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