Well, it finally comes out that the idea of Harry the Horse and Little Isadore and Spanish John is to get Big Butch to open the coal company's safe and take the pay-roll money out, and they are willing to give him fifty per cent of the money for his bother, taking fifty per cent for themselves for finding the plant, and paying all the overhead, such as the paymaster, out of their bit, which strikes me as a pretty fair sort of deal for Big Butch. But Butch only shakes his head.
'It is old-fashioned stuff,' Butch says. 'Nobody opens pete boxes for a living any more. They make the boxes too good, and they are all wired up with alarms and are a lot of trouble generally. I am in a legitimate business now and going along.'
-- 'Butch Minds the Baby' by Damon Runyon, Furthermore (1938)
Victorian crime literature, official and popular, often seems obsessed with keys, as if nothing else mattered. But in those days, as the master safe-cracker Neddy Sykes said in his trial in 1848, "The key is everything in the lay, the problem and the solution."
We forget how extraordinarily cluttered Victorian rooms were. Innumerable hiding places were provided by the prevailing decor of the period. Furthermore, the Victorians themselves adored secret compartments and concealed spaces; a mid-century writing desk was advertised as "containing 110 compartments, including many most artfully concealed from detection." Even the ornate hearths, found in every room of a house, offered dozens of places to hide an object as small as a key.
Thus, in the mid-Victorian period, information about the location of a key was almost as useful as an actual copy of the key itself.
-- Michael Crichton, The Great Train Robbery (1975)
Rififi (1954), Thief (1981), Die Hard (1988), The Score (2001)