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Robin Quinn PhotoRobin Quinn is an author and radio producer based in South-East England. His new book, The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo explores the life of Charles Deville Wells, fraudster and gambler, and spans the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Published 2016 by The History Press Ltd.

THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO

The incredible true story of Charles Deville Wells, gambler and fraudster extraordinaire.

Charles Wells has two loves in his life: a beautiful, headstrong, French mistress, Jeannette, and his sumptuous yacht, the Palais Royal. At the risk of losing them both, Wells stakes everything he owns at the roulette tables in Monte Carlo’s world-famous Casino – and in the space of a few days he breaks the bank, not once but ten times, winning the equivalent of millions in today’s money.

Is he phenomenally lucky? Has he really invented an “infallible” gambling system, as he claims? Or is he just an exceptionally clever fraudster?

Based on painstaking research on both sides of the Channel and beyond, this biography reveals the incredible true story of the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo – an individual who went on to become Europe’s most wanted criminal, hunted by British and French police, and known in the press as “Monte Carlo Wells – the man with 36 aliases”.

Pre-order now: Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmiths, iTunes.
Read excerpts on Google Books.

HITLER'S LAST ARMY

After the Second World War 400,000 German servicemen were imprisoned on British soil – some remaining until 1948. These defeated men in their tattered uniforms were, in every sense, Hitler's Last Army.

Reviews of Hitler's Last Army

“Probably the best book on the subject in the last 20 years”
[recollectionsofwwii.blogspot.co.uk]

“I recommend this book as a must to read.”
[★★★★★ Amazon review by “a German ex-POW”]

“Well written, interesting, informative, and heart-warming in equal measure … I would recommend this even to those not especially interested in WW2, as a fascinating slice of Anglo-German social history of 70 years ago. Buy it."
[★★★★★ Amazon review by J.B.]

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  • On this Day in 1891: 15 July

    The German Emperor’s state visit to Britain came to an end.  The Manchester Courier reported his departure on the Imperial yacht as follows:

    The German Emperor arrived at South Leith Station from London at five minutes past seven yesterday morning. The station platform was covered with crimson cloth, and there was a good display of bunting … The Emperor, alighting from the train, shook hands with the Consul and others. He then stepped into one of the four carriages which were in waiting for the party, and drove through the Albert Dock, the people cheering as he passed along. At the north side of the dock were a steam launch and two boats from the Hohenzollern. The Emperor and party boarded one of the boats, which was rowed down the harbour amid the cheers of the crowd, and a steam launch and other boats following, and embarked on board the Hohenzollern.

    Palais Royal
    Palais Royal – the former cargo ship, Tycho Brahe

    At that very moment, Charles Deville Wells – soon to gain fame as the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo – was preparing to purchase his own yacht, Palais Royal, which at almost 300 feet in length was even larger than the Emperor’s imposing craft, Hohenzollern.

  • The Joys of Research

    For a novelist writing a work of fiction in a familiar setting and era, the amount of research needed may be minimal – or even non-existent.  But for writers of non-fiction, especially history, a great deal of in-depth research is usually required.  It’s the foundation on which the narrative is built, and runs through the text like blood through an artery.

    When pursuing a line of research, I usually go considerably further than the book itself dictates: for example, in my new work, The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, an individual named Zalma Bradley Lee has only a fairly minor part to play in the story as a whole and appears on just three or four pages.  But I pushed the fact-finding process as far as it would go, in order to have the fullest possible understanding of what this person was like, and how she may have influenced the central members of the cast of characters and interacted with them.

    In the event, I used probably only ten per cent of the information I had collected on Zalma but the in-depth research helped to explain certain otherwise inexplicable episodes in the lives of Charles Wells – the man who broke the bank – and his French mistress, Jeannette (who had once been Zalma’s maid, and who was later a governess to her daughter).

    The French writer, Gustave Flaubert, is quoted as having said, ‘Writing history is like drinking an ocean and pissing a cupful.’

    As I don’t possess Flaubert’s poetical turn of phrase, (!) I might not have expressed the sentiment in those exact words  but I agree wholeheartedly with what he says.  The research for a book is like a giant jigsaw puzzle.  With any luck the writer will find most of the pieces of the puzzle and will discover how they fit together.  He or she will have to take an educated guess when it comes to missing pieces of the story, and hope that there will not be too many of these.

    The finished book may focus on a small section somewhere in the middle of the picture – but often it is the surrounding material that gives context, and aids our understanding of the core facts .  And where hard information is missing, it is this peripheral knowledge that helps us to formulate hypothetical scenarios when some of the facts are obscure or not known at all.  Just as an astronomer needs to have some understanding of the distant parts of the universe to be reasonably certain of how our own solar system functions, the writer needs at least a partial knowledge of the more obscure facts at the periphery of the subject in order to have a reliable understanding of the information at its heart.

  • Man who broke bank was son of literary genius

     

    Charles Jeremiah Wells
    Charles Jeremiah Wells as a young man. He later became a poet, a lawyer, and the father of the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo

     

    Charles Deville Wells, better known as ‘The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’, was the son of Charles Jeremiah Wells – a relatively unknown yet highly-acclaimed writer, who had once been a friend of one of Britain’s favourite poets, John Keats.  In fact, Keats dedicated a sonnet to his friend under the title ‘To a Friend who sent me some Roses

    But when, O Wells! thy roses came to me/My sense with their deliciousness was spell’d:/Soft voices had they, that with tender plea/Whisper’d of peace, and truth, and friendliness unquell’d.  

    Thanks to a curious string of coincidences, Wells junior also had several links with the world of literature.  When he was a few weeks old he was baptised by the Rev Francis Thackeray, an uncle of William Makepeace Thackeray (author of Vanity Fair).   At around the time when he broke the bank at Monte Carlo he moved to a luxurious apartment in Great Portland Street, London: this same address had earlier been the home of Baroness Orczy, of Scarlet Pimpernel fame.  And a building in Paris, from which he later operated a major financial scam, had been the birthplace of Alexandre Dumas fils, (son of the author of the Three Musketeers and the Count of Monte Cristo).

    Charles Deville Wells seems to have few literary pretensions of his won, though some of the prospectuses he created to lure people into his money-making schemes were acclaimed in the press as the work of a genius.

    House Marseille
    Charles Jeremiah Wells and his wife lived at this house in Marseille, 2 Montée des Oblats (since renamed rue Vauvenargues).  The property was probably bought for them by their son, Charles Deville Wells.
  • People say the nicest things …

    Hitler’s Last Army – which came out in 2015 – now has seven five-star reviews on Amazon.  My thanks to those who have made such kind and positive comments, and I’m delighted that they have found the book interesting.

    I was especially grateful to reader J. Barry, who says:

    Fully agree with all the glowing reviews, and note too the ex POW reviewers find that it does justice to their own experience. Like the others, I couldn’t put this down either.
    It’s well written, interesting, informative, and heart-warming in equal measure since the author interweaves personal experience with the wider story of government policy. As a WW2 obsessive, I’m always on the lookout for books that give us a different angle, or about subjects not well covered previously. This fitted the bill perfectly. The author does not gloss over the less creditable aspects of the mens’ treatment in British hands but I bet many others had a smile on their face like I did by the time I finished it, because you like the people and their stories. I would recommend this even to those not especially interested in WW2, as a fascinating slice of Anglo-German social history of 70 years ago. Buy it.

    When writing the book I had taken particular trouble to locate first-hand witness accounts from former prisoners.  I carried out a number of face-to-face interviews and also used memoirs from the Imperial War Museum and other sources.  My aim was to set these against the historical background of the time.  It wasn’t always easy, but – if J. Barry’s review is anything to go by – it seems to have worked!

  • How did you think of that?
    monte carlo casino exterior
    The casino at Monte Carlo. One night in 1891 Charles Wells crossed the square (right foreground) to his hotel, staggering under the weight of a million francs in banknotes and slept with them under his pillow.

    People often ask how I got the idea for this book.  A few years ago I was researching some completely unrelated topic in an old newspaper from the 1920s. I spotted a paragraph which said something like ‘Man who broke bank at Monte Carlo dies in poverty.’ It grabbed my attention because I knew there had been an old song about the man who broke the bank, but I’d never had the faintest idea that he was a real person till that moment. And then I wondered what could possibly have happened for him to finish up in poverty.

    I discovered that Charles Deville Wells broke the bank in 1891 and won very large sums of money at roulette and at a card game, trente-et-quarante. It was pretty obvious from the reports that he really had broken the bank, but also that he was a fraudster. That made me wonder how he’d done it. The details seemed very sketchy, and newspaper articles about him often contradicted one another.

    When I told my editor at The History Press that there had never been a previous biography of Charles Wells, he could hardly believe it — and I felt the same. So we knew that this would be a first.

    Now, in one way that’s very good news for an author, as there’s no direct competition. But on the other hand, it meant that I’d have to reconstruct Wells’ life from scratch. I started with a timeline. And I remember the first version of it was a half sheet of A4 paper with about seven entries, beginning with his birth and ending with his death – and even the details of those events weren’t known for certain. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to find the whole story, or whether it would be possible to fill in all the gaps. But the timeline finished up as a hefty document nearly 200 pages long, with over 700 separate entries representing just about every known fact about Charles Deville Wells. And then it was a matter of putting it all in order – making sense of all the material. And sorting out all the discrepancies and contradictions in the basic material. That took months.

    (To be continued)