The book presents much advice that remains relevant almost 120 years later. However, there is sufficient pure balderdash to amuse the modern reader. For example the Great Houdini illustrates an archetypical criminal hand and discusses how to identify a criminal by phenotypical identification. "The ordinary criminal's hand has a peculiarly rough shape, the thumb being very plump and short, while the fingers are uneven and heavy. The small finger is turned inward, and bluntness is the hand's chief characteristic."
Harry covers a wide variety of crimes, from simple burglaries to stock swindles and it is indeed sobering that all the scams from fake beggars to chain letters remain in play. Though the game of Bunco (a dice game where one has to throw dice to total to a hidden number) is an anachronism, there are far too many bunco artists still at play. Forged art and the poisonous stings of confidence women seem more crimes aimed at the wealthy. Harry holds some of his harshest criticism for mediums, fortune tellers, seers, and faith healers. "Spiritualism is really a beautiful belief for those that are honest and believe in it; but as I have visited the greatest spiritualistic meetings in the world, I am sorry to say that no one has ever produced anything for me that would smack of the spiritual." Harry is famous for his claim that if there was an afterlife he would provide evidence of it on All Hallowed's Eve. Vigils were held for decades but Harry never showed. They may still be held for all I know.
Harry included a shot at his career as an escape artist, of course reminding the reader that every bit of his own career was true. This is interesting, as The Right Way to Do Wrong claims Harry was born in Appleton, WI on April 6, 1873 yet Harry's biographies suggest he was born Erich Weisz in Budapest Hungary on March 24, 1874. Mr. Houdini is that a humbug?
Humbug or not the book is a fun read and well worth tracking down a copy.
Here is an excerpt from "The Fair Criminal" shot. Sophie Lyons had married noted burglar Ned Lyons and became one of the top female pickpockets.
"'Sophie' Lyons was a beautiful girl with brilliant dark eyes, abundant auburn hair, and a fascinating manner. At the county fairs she would make the acquaintance of men of wealth, and deftly relieve them of their watch or roll of banknotes, while they were fascinated with her blandishments. If caught, she was a consummate actress, and could counterfeit every shade of emotion. Real tear of injured innocence would flow from her beautiful eyes. Lyons pulled off a big coup about two years after their marriage, bought a villa on Long Island with the proceeds and, though a professional burglar himself, tried to keep his wife from stealing. The taint was too strong, however; she picked pockets for the love of it. Eventually both husband and wife were sentenced to Sing Sing Prison, from which they made a sensational escape to Paris. In France under the name of Madame d'Varney, she continued her brilliant career of crime. Sophie Lyons is supposed to be at large at the present time- somewhere in America."
For those unfamiliar with Sophie, she retired from her life of crime in 1913 and wrote her memoirs while living in Detroit. Why Crime Does Not Pay had some success but not as much as her subsequent career in real estate. She is reputed to have amassed as many as 40 houses. In 1922 the Karma Police busted Sophie and a burglary at one of her homes resulted in a loss of almost $20,000 in jewels and bonds.
Maybe Harry was moonlighting.