Post-WWII-London might look like a boys club but in reality, a shadowy gang of female thieves runs these mean streets.
Good to know
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 department 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?
Queen of Thieves
London, June 1953
The sleek sable wrap feels so sumptuous between my fingers, I simply can’t resist it.
The fur is heavenly and soft; it’s exactly what I’m looking for. The whole street is going to be dolled up to the nines for the Coronation Party and I don’t want to disappoint because I’m royalty too; Queen of my manor, that is.
The minute the shop assistant’s back is turned, I snatch it from the rail and begin to roll it, quickly, into a tight, furry bundle.
I yank open the baggy waistband of my skirt and shove the wrap down the leg of my knickers. They are voluminous, real passion killers, with elastic at each knee, designed with one purpose in mind: going shopping.
Clouting, we call it, and I’m the best in the West End of London, stepping away from that clothes rail as if I haven’t a care in the world.
It hasn’t always been this easy; I’ve had my fair share of close shaves, especially in the early days when I was learning my craft. Even now, the thrill of stealing mingles with a fear of being tumbled by the shop staff, which makes my hands clammy.
Being a thief wasn’t the career I had in mind when I was growing up but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you never know the way your life is going to turn out.
By the time I left school, I’d never even pinched so much as a sherbet lemon from the pick ’n’ mix at Woolworths. All that changed after we won the war.
Victory tasted sweet but as I soon found out, it couldn’t stop the hunger pangs. Beating Hitler was one thing, but Britain was broke.
Rationing got worse and before you knew it, most folks were taking a bit of crooked, just to make life more bearable. It was all well and good for politicians to tell us not to grumble, but they never went short, did they?
Wherever you looked there were bomb craters and piles of rubble. Weeds and wildflowers sprung up among the ruins, and excited kids claimed bomb sites as their playgrounds, no matter how many times their mums told them not to. Life went on but there was little or no money to rebuild.
In London, battered by war but bursting with people hungry for some fun and what little luxuries they could afford, the black-marketeers and their bosses saw a golden opportunity.
After all, gangland was a man’s world.
That’s what they thought.
But us women, well, we knew different.
This is our story.
Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
I love a morally dubious heroine, even more so when she delights in her rule-breaking. So I was thrilled to stumble upon Alice, a resourceful and commanding gang leader who is the beating heart of this wonderful historical novel.
The year is 1946. London has just been decimated and is still reeling from The Blitz. Most families can barely put food on the table, but Alice—the titular Queen of Thieves—has gamed the system with a practiced sleight of hand and a keen eye for new bandits. Enter Nell, a down-on-her-luck teenager who’s found herself pregnant, alone, and in dire need of guidance. Alice quickly identifies her as a malleable heist partner and ushers Nell into her crew of women thieves. But as tensions rise between Alice’s group and a rival gang, so too does the burgeoning power struggle between the queen and an unexpectedly slick Nell, desperate for revenge and out for blood.
This book has a page-turning plot and paints an immersive portrait of postwar London’s darker corners and back alleys, but what I loved most were the unique and memorable characters. Alice especially has such a distinct, hypnotic voice: rough-and-tumble, straightforward, with a bit of a Cockney lilt. And I can’t imagine anything more badass than punching someone out with fingers full of sharp diamond rings—what a signature move! This combination of guts and glamor is what makes Queen of Thieves such a deliciously unputdownable novel for the underlying rebel in all of us.
Member ratings (11,530)
Des Moines, IA
I absolutely loved this book, the fact that it’s based on real character made it that much more interesting. The way Nell’s character unfolded from mousy to a boss was organically written! Great Book!
Bean Station, TN
I loved this post WWII HF during continued rationing, and gang of thieves led by Alice Diamond and the struggles of competition between rival gangs over who will control London’s post warcrime rewards
Grand Rapids , MI
Nell, like a lot of women, fell for Jimmy, got pregnant, quit her job, ended up under Alice’s wing to become a top thief. Nells baby is taken away while she is in jail and she swears revenge on Alice.
Hooked from the first page! Interesting setting in post war London, where life was so difficult for many. The resourceful women of the Forty Thieves broke all of society’s rules making their own way!
Interesting look at life in London after the world war 2 destruction. Based on true stories & true characters & the struggles to survive the hardships the war left behind. Hard to put down. Loved it.