I think if it were told by anyone else, this story could've been pretty damn dreary. But Alan Parker turns out to be a hell of a good author (of course, he wrote the screenplays for a few of his movies, but he's better known for his visual flair than way with words). The story follows a young pickpocket through, basically, most of his life: how it started, where it took him, who he met along the way. It's mostly, though, one of those great journeys through chunks of American history – it starts in 1906 with the San Francisco earthquake, which proves to be Tommy's (the hero) first taste of thievery ... it goes on, for a long stretch, through Prohibition ... and ends back in San Francisco, shortly after the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. Other clear interests of the author find their way in too: a lot of talk about wine-tasting, which always bugs the hell of of me, this was my least favourite part of the book.
It seems inevitable to me that Parker will one day develop this into a movie. I hope I'm not wrong, I'd love to see these characters brought to life onscreen.