Summer Reading: A Gentleman Thief

Debbie Elliott gets a tip on summer beach reading from Jesse Kornbluth, our cultural concierge and the man behind HeadButler.com. He recommends The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, the story of a 19th century gentleman thief by the French writer Maurice Leblanc.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

It's getting warm enough to start thinking about beach reading, but what to pick? If you're tired of "Law and Order" detective thrillers, our head butler, Jesse Kornbluth, recommends you try taking a more criminal point of view.

Jesse, a criminal point of view?

Mr. JESSE KORNBLUTH (HeadButler.com): And a very attractive one. I know, Deb, that, you know, this is not something that you and I would ever think of. But, you know, to steal from the very rich who have so much, who won't miss it, who are heavily insured, and who really perhaps don't deserve to have it in the first place.

ELLIOTT: A Robin Hood?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Is that theft or is it justice?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KORNBLUTH: But it isn't even Robin Hood, it's sports. Because Arsene Lupin is a gentleman burglar, this is his art form. And in this very famous series, of "The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin," he is doing amazing things all the time and you never root for law enforcement.

ELLIOTT: And who wrote these books?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: These books were written by Maurice LeBlanc. And he wrote a series of 20 of them starting in 1906. They were hugely successful. They were made into films. The most recent film actually was made in France in 2004. This is stuff that's extremely well known in Europe and not terribly well known here at all.

ELLIOTT: So tell me the kinds of adventures that Mr. Lupin has?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Once he breaks into a Baron's residence, takes nothing, leaves a card for the host. Arsene Lupin, gentlemen burglar, will return when the furniture is genuine.

So he's kind of a brilliant snob. And he sort of looks like Pierce Brosnan to me, that is, you know, thin, elegant, and yet, not memorable because he takes many forms. As he says, I don't want you to remember what I look like, only what I did.

ELLIOTT: Sounds a little bit like maybe Cary Grant in "To Catch a Thief"?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Very much. Very much. Although he doesn't have romantic adventures, it's more of showing up the buffoonery of the rich and the folly of law enforcement. I mean, he even has a confrontation with Sherlock Holmes, guess who wins?

ELLIOTT: Would you like to read a selection for us?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Well, this is a letter he sends to - sends from prison. I mean -this is about a robbery he's going to commit from prison.

(Reading) Monsieur Le Baron, there is in your - a gallery in your castle, a picture of Philippe de Champaigne, of exquisite finish, which pleases me beyond measure. Your Rubens are also to my taste, as well as your smallest Watteau. In the salon to the right, I have noticed the Louis XIII cadence-table, the tapestries of Beauvais, the Empire gueridon signed Jacob, and the Renaissance chest. In the salon to the left, all the cabinet full of jewels and miniatures.

For the present I will content myself with those articles that can be conveniently removed. I will therefore ask you to pack them carefully and ship them to me, charges prepaid, to the station at Batignolles, within eight days, otherwise I shall be obliged to remove them myself during the night of the 27 of September. But under those circumstances, I shall not content myself with the articles abovementioned.

Accept my apologies for any inconvenience I may cause you. And believe me, to be your humble servant.

Oh, P.S. Do not send the largest Watteau. Although you paid 30,000 francs for it, it is only a copy, the original having been burned, under the Directoire by Barass, during a night of debauchery. Consult the memoirs of Garat. And I do not care for the Louis XV chatelaine, as I doubt its authenticity.

What a snob, huh?

ELLIOTT: Such an educated and smooth operator for a burglar.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: Yeah. It's really hard not to fall for him, isn't it? I mean, because he is what he is, and he's not apologetic.

ELLIOTT: So after reading this, Jesse, tell us were you tempted to just sneak around to your neighbors' and make off with all their jewelry?

Mr. KORNBLUTH: I'm only faux elegant, I don't dare even aspire to the level of elegance of Arsene Lupin.

ELLIOTT: The book is "The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin," by Maurice LeBlanc. You can find all sorts of cultural jewels on Jesse Kornbluth's Web site, HeadButler.com.

Jesse, thanks as always.

Mr. KORNBLUTH: A pleasure, Debbie. Steal this book.

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