'The Hooligan Nights' by Clarence Rook (1899) is a classic contemporary description of crime on the streets of 1890s Lambeth. The book is told through a series of interviews with its teenage protagonist, the charismatic 'Alf' - we learn about his upbringing, his criminal exploits, including burglary, pickpocketing, passing counterfeit money and bare-knuckle fights. Alf is a magnificent character, full of spirit and charm, but capable of evoking our pity. Each interview leaves the reader wanting to know more about his fate - not least, will the 'coppers' catch up with him? The book is a unique description of 'low life', written at the zenith of Queen's Victoria's reign, achieved without sentiment or moralising. Was Alf a real boy, an amalgam of different people, or a work of pure fiction? There are no definitive answers to this puzzle, but he remains one of the great 'lost' characters of English fiction.