The LONG FIRM Hardcover
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Top Customer Reviews
I thought this book was great fun, giving what I thought could be an authentic feel for the seedy side of the "swinging" London of the 1960s. Several real-life figures pop up - Judy Garland and Johnnie Ray, for example - and there are thinly disguised ones ("Gerald Wilman" must surely be Kenneth Williams). "Jack the Hat", one of the narrators, was a real-life villain.
Some parts of the plot work better than others - I thought that the scenes set outside London were less convincing than those in London. The book is a picture of both small and big-time villainy - although London was booming and trendy, society was still repressed (for example, homosexuality was illegal, gays lived in fear of being exposed and were therefore open to blackmail). There was a tension between the good times that many were experiencing and the crime that went with it.
Although Arnott flirts with depicting Stark as the villain with a heart of gold, he draws back from that - in the end, there's little or nothing to redeem Stark.
Swinging London in the 60ï¿½s, but forget London of Cliff Richard and Summer Holiday, more a London of the shadows; gangsters, corrupt police, rent boys and a decayed and decadent aristocracy. This is the story of Harry Starks, club owner, racketeer, porn king. He is violent and sadistic, a believer in Queen and country, Judy Garland fan, depressive and gay.
We first meet Harry through the eyes of one of the young rent boys he takes up and employs to run an illegal business scam, (The Long Firm of the title). Harryï¿½s story is filled out by Lord Thursby, Jack the Hat, Ruby Ryder and Lenny the sociologist. Arnott has done his research, the decadent and corrupt peer of the realm has echoes of the scandalous Profumo affair, Jack the Hat (Mc Vittie) was a known gangster and associate of the notorious Kray twins, Ruby Ryder the Rank Starlet could be Barbara Windsor (the blonde buxom one in the Carry On movies) with her involvement in Londonï¿½s underworld. Lenny the sociologist is a cruel characterisation of the inept idealist. Arnott has used Harry Starks to provide a thumbnail sketch of how the UK progressed from the cosy days of P.M. Harold Macmillan to the social maelstrom that was the legacy of Thatcherï¿½s Britain. We see glimpses of the nascent National Front and its hatred of Asians; the pervasiveness of the drug culture, and the importance of dress to define class, tribe and social standing ï¿½ that appearance was everything to these men ï¿½ï¿½my hippy aesthetic didnï¿½t impress them at all .It didnï¿½t look confrontational, it merely looked sloppy.ï¿½
This book has a gritty realism that is essentially English and specifically London flavoured. Think Lock Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels, The Long Good Friday, The Krays, yes they are all movies and can it be any surprise that the BBC are already filming this as a 5 part series?
When we first meet Harry, he is singing "there's no business like show business" while heating up a poker to torture a former lover, and despite his charm and his attempts to seem respectable, we never forget how dangerous Harry really is. The plot mostly concerns Harry's attempt to build up his own empire in the shadow of the Kray twins, with some assistance from a corrupt vice squad detective who wants to see all of London's porn business run by one firm. Occasional touches of humour lighten the sleaziness, but can't dispell it, and the book never becomes a comedy. Even if you're not normally a fan of crime fiction, but are looking for a well-written character-driven novel, THE LONG FIRM is well worth reading.
The main focus of the story is, however, far more subtle and the author only throws it at us in the last third of the book. Arnott then questions the concept of law and order which, he suggests, runs railroad over subcultures in the quest of attaining universal good behaviour. Through his depiction of Harry and his co-stars, the author quite rightly challenges the system stating that common law condescends to judge the life of the mobster and the crimes he commits against others from his world.
The people Arnott depicts live in a subculture that does not infringe on society at large and which has its own set of rules governing punishment and reward. Those people are there by choice and have a responsibility to live by the rules of this world. In turn, can these individuals then be judged by common law, or choose to turn their back on this life and 'squeal'? These are questions Arnott addresses with venom and dark realism questioning a system that is on the one hand totalitarian in its regulation and on the other influenced by weak liberalism which believes in re-adjusting such criminals to a wider society they never belonged to.
Most recent customer reviews
Arnott's book is basically a quick-read, light novel, but it uses some interesting devices from more "serious" literature to make an engaging little book. Read morePublished on Dec 26 2003 by John Russon
I couldn't put it down. The characters and locations seemed very real (They should, many were real.). Read morePublished on April 7 2003
I thoroughly enjoyed the original slant Arnott put on this book. While dealing with the same character throughout the book, he manages to use different views to keep the story... Read morePublished on May 28 2002
Harry Starks is a British recidivistic businessman (gangster of sorts) in the 1960s and 1970s who just happens to be homosexual. Read morePublished on July 4 2001
Arnott uses a variety of first-person voices to tell the story of the rise and fall of a '60s London crime boss in this largely entertaining trip back in time. Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2001 by A. Ross
Those who have seen the Kurosawa film, Rashimon, knows Arnotts technique. Tell a story or parts of it from different peoples viewpoint and the right writer can deliver pure gold. Read morePublished on Oct. 1 2000 by Henning Henning
Jake Arnott's debut is by turns funny, poignant, fascinating, exciting, and an interesting portrayal of the London underworld circa 1960 - 1980. Read morePublished on June 15 2000 by J. F Malysiak
Arnotts stylish if uneven debut is a clever crime chronicle of sorts. We get the career highlights of unsentimental Harry Starks - a part time club owner, racketeer, pornographer... Read morePublished on March 22 2000 by Daniel Sandstrm