The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 19, 2016

February 19 1954

Charles Belfoure (February 19, 1954) is an American writer, with a knowledgeable interest in history and architecture. A recent review of his latest novel, House of Thieves: A Novel (2015) talks about the man and the book.

Charles Belfoure is the author of
The Paris Architect (.... 2013) and several architectural histories. His second novel, House of Thieves (.... 2015), is set in Gilded Age New York and tells the story of a wealthy architect blackmailed into using his architectural knowledge to help a gang of criminals steal from the wealthiest families in the city. Belfoure practices historic preservation as an architect and consultant, and lives in Westminster, Md......

[The] really the big concept behind the novel: These characters are dissatisfied with their society lives and the rules they have to follow, so they find it very liberating and exhilarating to be part of a secret world.
The idea came from this actual historical figure named George Leslie. He was a guy from a wealthy Midwestern family who came to New York supposedly to practice as an architect, though there's not much proof for that. Regardless, he made a choice to give up a legitimate lifestyle to become a criminal planning bank robberies. It was far more lucrative for him. He was a real figure; he died in 1878 when he was murdered.
When I research a book, I always start by getting used books on a subject that I mark up and highlight and use to find interesting information. So I stumbled onto this guy in one of the books I had on the Gilded Age in a section on criminals, and it just fascinated me.....

What were you most surprised to discover in your research?

We complain about poverty and homelessness today, but the level of poverty in that time period was absolutely staggering. There was no safety net: no welfare system, no unemployment, nothing like that. There were tens of thousands of homeless children running the streets of New York, basically like wild cats. And no one really cared. There were a few charitable organizations trying to help, but beyond that, no one really gave a damn about them. Today we're very sensitive to the needs of the poor, but in those days, that kind of compassion didn't exist.
What happens as I do my research is that it gives me ideas for plot development and characters, so I try to do all my research up front. ...

There are cats in House of Thieves: A Novel (2015). In this story crooks break into a mansion to steal, and are startled at the sound of a crash. It turns out to be a cat knocking something over. Despite what one assumes is a need to hurry, one of the thieves, pets the cat.
Some of Belfoure's nonfiction includes:

Edmund G. Lind: Anglo-American Architect of Baltimore and the South (2009)
Monuments to Money: The Architecture of American Banks (2011)
Baltimore Rowhouse (c0-author) (2012).

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