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The Long Firm [Paperback]

Jake Arnott
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 1 2003
Harry Starks' barbarity and elan stand out, even among the firms (or mobs) of London's underworld in the sixties where he is a major hoodlum and gay impresario.

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From Amazon

"What's breaking into a bank compared with founding one?"

Bertolt Brecht's provocative question opens Jake Arnott's first novel, The Long Firm, and sets the scene for its memorable exploration of the London underworld in the early 1960s. Five very different characters tell their five very different stories about "Torture Gang Boss" Harry Starks, a man who likes to keep both Bertrand Russell and Physique Pictorial on his coffee table. His lover and kept boy, Terry, recalls him as a man who "liked to break people" but also a "frightened little child," while according to the Tory lord who frequented his erotic functions, Starks is "lower-class tearaway." In the eyes of his various criminal and starlet peers, Mad Harry is a depressive with a diabolical mind, one who likes to "stage manage the fear." The radical young sociologist who teaches him in prison marks him down as a product of working-class subculture, a living critique of capitalism. When, however, he asks Harry what he makes of Gay Liberation, he doesn't quite get the expected response:

"Well," he said with a gleam in his eye. "Someone once called Ronnie Kray a fat poof. Ronnie took the top of his head off with a Luger. That's my sort of Gay Liberation. Though, to be honest, I think it was the fat part what got to him. Ron's, well, touchy about his weight."
Harry Starks is the beginning and end of The Long Firm, a compelling showman who embodies the brutal realism and impossible dreams at the heart of Arnott's vision of London low life. The glamour, and the corruption, of that life drive this story, but Arnott manages to weave cliché into enigma, myth into inquiry, thereby revitalizing our well-worn images of the mad, bad, and dangerous to know. As Starks would put it, keeping Brecht's question before the readers' eyes, "It's all about the economy of power." --Vicky Lebeau --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

British actor Arnott debuts with an extraordinarily rich thriller, a character study based on gangster life in 1960s London. Raw and often disturbingly detailed, the story is a piercing examination of the life of Harry Starks, an unforgettable villain who controls the rackets in the West End through menace, brutality and his own particular brand of tough love. Each of the book's five sections explores a different character's often harrowing episodes with Starks. Terry, a club-hopping pretty boy, is kept as a lover, slave and assistant by Starks, but when Terry gets uppity, Starks strikes. Teddy Thursby is a drunken, financially ruined member of the House of Commons whose homosexuality becomes a chip in one of Starks's high-stakes blackmail schemes. Jack the Hat is a pill-popping thug used by Starks for the dirtiest of jobs, while another employee, fading starlet Ruby Ryder, is kept in charge of Starks's pornography ring. Lenny, a university sociologist who befriends Starks, winds up in a gangster shootout, as murderously hot-blooded as his kingpin pal. Readers familiar with the saga of the Kray brothers will recognize the milieu. Some brief scenes of torture and wanton violence require a strong stomach, and yet there are many tender moments that show Starks's humaneness and vulnerability. A leader loyal to his friends and a softie for a pretty face, he's nonetheless an iron-willed disciplinarian when he's been betrayed. He's also a man of considerable intellectual depth who can discuss complex philosophy with clarity and simplicity. Starks's many associates are as original and fully developed as he is. They all populate a story of remarkable originality that stretches far beyond the conventional crime drama in both style and substance. Agent, Gelfman-Schneider. 25,000 first printing. (Sept.) FYI: The Long Firm will be a five-part BBC miniseries.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Swinging London? April 1 2002
The life of the homosexual gangster "Harry Starks" as told by various people who came into contact with him: a rent boy; a homosexual Peer of the Realm; a down-at-heel crook; a failed actress; and a criminologist (who visits Stark in prison).
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.
Entertaining stuff.
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4.0 out of 5 stars London of the shadows Aug. 30 2001
The Long Firm
Swinging London in the 60´¿s, 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). Harry´¿s 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 London´¿s 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 Thatcher´¿s 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 ´¿ that appearance was everything to these men ´¿´¿my hippy aesthetic didn´¿t impress them at all .It didn´¿t look confrontational, it merely looked sloppy.´¿
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?
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5.0 out of 5 stars The great story of a minor villain June 10 2001
THE LONG FIRM is an excellent crime novel with an unconventional approach. It tells the story of London crime boss Mad Harry Starks from the first-person viewpoints of several of his associates through the 1960s and 70s: his rent-boy turned house-boy Terry; closeted politician Lord Thursby; aging freelance villain Jack the Hat; failed sex-symbol and minor actress Ruby Ryder; and finally, socialist criminologist Lenny. Arnott's description of scams such as 'the long firm', demurrage, airport rackets and pornography smuggling is fascinating, and so detailed that it feels almost autobiographical. He has also done a superb job of capturing the seedy side of London in the '60s.
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Harry's Game March 15 2001
By MarkB
Well, I'll leave the plot description to the reviewer below... Setting aside the clever, interwoven story line which gave a brilliant 'hall of mirrors' perspective on central character Harry, the author pounds the senses with his depiction of 60's East End London.
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant Diversion for a Couple of Days
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 more
Published on Dec 26 2003 by John Russon
5.0 out of 5 stars 4 hours, 5 coffees, and 9 cigarettes
I couldn't put it down. The characters and locations seemed very real (They should, many were real.). Read more
Published on April 7 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Original Slant
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 more
Published on May 28 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Twilight in the garden of law and justice
Harry Starks is a British recidivistic businessman (gangster of sorts) in the 1960s and 1970s who just happens to be homosexual. Read more
Published on July 4 2001 by "blissengine"
4.0 out of 5 stars A Must For Britcrime Fans
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 more
Published on Jan. 12 2001 by A. Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside the heads of 5 people I wouldn't ordinary get to know
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 more
Published on Oct. 1 2000 by Henning Henning
4.0 out of 5 stars A real page-turner
Jake Arnott's debut is by turns funny, poignant, fascinating, exciting, and an interesting portrayal of the London underworld circa 1960 - 1980. Read more
Published on June 15 2000 by J. F Malysiak
3.0 out of 5 stars The trouble with Harry
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 more
Published on March 22 2000 by Daniel Sandstrm
4.0 out of 5 stars Peek at the Brit underbelly is bloody entertaining
In "The Long Firm," British author Jake Arnott tries to do for London what crime writer extraordinaire James Ellroy did for L.A. Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2000 by Cityview
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