British author Edward Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946) worked in his father's leather business before serving in the Ministry of Information following World War I. He eventually turned his hand to writing crime novels after his father helped him get his first book published. It was a good investment on his father's part, because Oppenheim was apparently successful enough to buy a French villa and a yacht and appeared on the cover of Time magazine in September 1927, referring to himself as the "prince of storytellers." That may appear to be a bit of boasting, but he published some 150 novels in all, with 45 movies made from his books between 1914 and 1942.
Many of Oppenheim's works were early precursors of the spy genre, with An Amiable Charlatan (1916) filled with its own smattering of intrigue. The story revolves around the protagonist, Paul Walmsley, a sophisticated British gentleman (a frequent type of Oppenheim character), with most of the action taking place inside Stephano's Restaurant in London. The "amiable charlatan" of the title is American "adventurer" Joseph H. Parker who interrupts Walmsley's dinner by sitting down with him uninvited and eating his food. When a detective bursts into the room and searches Parker for suspected stolen goods, he finds nothing—unbeknownst to Walmsley, Parker has temporarily stowed the goods on him and then palmed them off to an accomplice maître d'hôtel.
Thus begins an unusual friendship, as Parker sticks to Walmsley like glue, interrupting more of his life than just dinner and pickpocketing one item after another, even getting Walmsley involved with ex-cons, theft after theft and a counterfeit ring. Even worse, Parker has a partner-in-crime, his lovely daughter, who Walmsley happens to fall for. But as the book proceeds, it becomes apparent that the charming and master-manipulator Parker isn't exactly what he appeared to be at first. It's a fun caper, with some adventure and romance mixed in. Parker is a winsome character and a little reminiscent of Donald Westlake's comic thief, John Dortmunder—except he has a success rate with his con jobs that would make Dortmunder proud.