I'm one of those people who have vaguely heard of the Kangaroo Gang but didn't really know many of the specific details. What I never realised was how wide the reach of this gang of thieves was.
KING OF THIEVES is a wonderful tale about the exploits of a brazen bunch of Aussie thieves and shoplifters who hit London and the Continent, with aplomb, starting in the mid 1960s.
It's also one of those books that makes you feel slightly guilty - it's hard not admire this bunch of astounding, brazen, clever, and straight out cunning band of crooks. One of the things that does sober your estimation just a bit is the revelation that interwoven with the story of the Kangaroo Gang is the story of some of the biggest villains in Australia, and some of their connections to the American Mafia and beyond.
Adam Shand has told a wonderfully readable tale in this book - full of stories of exploits, failed and successful and character studies of many of the members of the Gang. He's also outlined some of the downsides of a life of crime, as well as the upsides. Perhaps what the book doesn't do is give you an indepth analysis of some of the key players, but that's not to underestimate what the book actually does tell you. The story of the Kangaroo Gang is one of careful analysis, and careful planning, as well as playing fair with all members of the group. They used a sophisticated setup of "head pullers", distraction, fleet of hand and fleet of foot, timing and extreme care. They never resorted to violence, and they distributed the funds fairly amongst everyone involved - from the person doing the actual stealing right through to all the "head pullers" no matter how many there were. And they also worked most successfully in the days before security cameras, large numbers of store detectives, and in a time when police weren't automatically able to access photo ID's for Gang Members. They also had a startling range of faked and alternative ID's and they seemed to travel almost without detection. Particularly enlightening is the end of the book where the author walks some of the paths that the Gang took, visits some of the very upmarket jewellery stores that they frequented and looks at how easy it is to "fit in".
A fantastic introduction to a period of time in Australia's history - where it just has to be said - exporting our crims back to the land that sent so many of them here in the first place is tantalisingly funny. The book is discussing a serious crime wave, with victims that should be remembered, and a gang from which many members ultimately did turn to less "savoury" areas such as drugs. But if for no other reason, read KING OF THIEVES to find out something about a little known Australian Gang. If that doesn't work for you, the connections between the Kangaroo Gang and so many "names" of the current criminal world will really make you think.