The underworld is a nebulous concept, not easy to capture and record. Whilst scholarly understandings recognise that crime and deviance are subject to networks, organisation and subcultures, the historical underworld has become obscured by cultural production. How to define the underworld is a problem. Thus it is not a ‘thing’ or a place; nor is it a set of practices, nor simply a literary construction. Our problems with definition lie in two broad areas. First, the underworld suggests something covert. The criminals who are associated with the underworld are those who are generally caught and have become involved in the criminal justice machinery. Yet a great deal of organised crime is undetectable, and certainly invisible to all but those most closely involved.1 As historians we can only hope to capture fragments of this covert world in its overlapping with the various branches of criminal justice. Secondly, the historical underworld has become defined by a series of vignettes. These are the stories of real life criminals and detectives that have shaped and continue to shape how we see the underworld. In many ways they are a set of myths, far removed from the original events or personalities involved.
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