Tag Archives: British crime

So Evil My Love: Joseph Shearing (1947)

“There are secret ways of justice.”

So Evil My Love is a novel of Gothic suspense. Hardly my usual read but I came to this book via the ‘Gaslight noir‘  film version (which I’ve yet to see). Author Joseph Shearing is one of the pseudonyms used by Marjorie Bowen (1885-1952) who wrote an incredible number of books.

So Evil My love (1947) according to my edition, has some similarities to the case of Charles Bravo, so if you know anything about that case, you know that it involves murder–murder by poison.

The novel opens with 30-year-old Olivia Sacret, the widow of a Dissenter missionary “whose life and death were obscure, who had bequeathed her but a few hundred pounds” and a tiny shabby house. She worked alongside him in Jamaica and nursed him through the tortures of his illness. Now she’s back in England desperately seeking work either with some mission or dissenter society, but no such work is forthcoming. Olivia, the daughter of a doctor who married beneath him, remembers a school friend, Susan. Heiress Susan married, was made a widow and has married again. In between those two marriages, however, she fell in love with a married man. Looking for a suitable position, Olivia reads an announcement in the paper that Susan and her new husband, Martin Rue have just returned home from Florence.

Olivia decides to contact Susan, and even though she despises Susan, Olivia, a festering tangle of resentments, thinks perhaps she can turn the acquaintance to her advantage.

So evil my love

Susan Rue, as it turns out, isn’t happily married. Her second husband, Martin is “jealous, censorious, mean,” and even though he’s a young man, he’s a perpetual neurotic self-made invalid, fussing about his health and dosing himself with various potions.  After Susan foolishly confides her unhappiness to Olivia, Olivia gains “a sense of power,” for “she had regained her old ascendancy over this [Susan’s] weak nature.”

Olivia mentions some letters from Susan she still has in her possession. The letters were written when Susan was a widow and madly in love with the married man. Susan’s obvious fear that these letters still exist fuels Olivia, and she begins to subtly blackmail Susan–moving into the Rue home, siphoning off money, jewelry, clothing.

Then into Olivia’s life, a handsome man appears who claims he’s a painter. He wants to rent Olivia’s now empty house, and after a little flattering attention, gradually Olivia falls under his spell, confiding in him and taking his advice regarding her manipulation of Susan. …

As noted, this is not my usual read, and yet So Evil My Love is brilliantly constructed, it’s gripping. The threat of encroaching evil permeates this incredibly atmospheric novel of deception, blackmail, murder and revenge. Marjorie Bowen, writing as Joseph Shearing nails human nature, and shows how a murderous plot is put in motion with one nasty, vindictive human nature coming under the control of an evil mind–a murderer who gives Olivia a narrative of her life. And that is Olivia’s central weakness: accepting the narrative she wants to hear. Olivia is an incredible, yet credible, creation: when the novel begins, she wraps herself in piety. It’s a costume which allows her to feel superior and to imagine she’s still part of the genteel crowd when she’s long since sunk beneath that–now she’s clinging to the raft of respectability with both claws. Bowen includes some marvelous touches here–Martin Rue’s hothouse of exotic rare flowers, the resentment of the servants, the way in which Olivia brushes over her own evil acts, and the way the ‘painter’ harnesses her resentments for his own gain. 

How little any of it had availed–so much violence, so many lies, such intricate scheming, and she was where she had been, a poor missionary’s widow. It was all the fault of her parents, who had brought her up so poorly, who had cheated her so cruelly, who had never given her a chance.

She made her way home, using that word in her mind, with no sense of how grotesque it was in her case.

The ending is incredible.

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Calamity in Kent: John Rowland (1950)

“First of all I did what I always do when I come into a strange room-I looked at the bookshelf.”

Journalist Jimmy London is recuperating from an unnamed illness on the Kent coast at the small seaside town, Broadgate. Jimmy, out walking before the rest of the guests at the boarding house are awake, finds the operator of the cliff lift stumbling, in the state of imminent collapse after finding a dead body inside the locked cliff lift. While the operator, a rather peculiar, dense character named Aloysius Bender, goes off to get the police, Jimmy guards the body.

Jimmy, who was forced to resign from his last job for health reasons, seizes the opportunity to sell a story as a freelancer. Alone with the body, he rifles the clothes of the dead man and grabs a notebook. This behaviour is the first sign that we are dealing with a delightfully unscrupulous character who justifies himself throughout the story as he skirts between his self-interest and remaining in the good graces of Inspector Shelley from Scotland Yard.

calamity in kent

John Rowland’s 1950 novel Calamity in Kent is an interesting entry in the British Library Crime Classics. Inspector Shelley and  Jimmy are old friends, and these two characters work their own parallel , co-operative investigations with Shelley acknowledging that people will talk to a newspaperman whereas a uniform will often result in a witness clamming up. And this indeed proves to be the case. Jimmy digs into the past of the dead man and befriends a couple of young people who are mixed up in the case by association.

With many of the books in this series, following the investigation with a main character brings the reader in as a sideline detective. Take Miles Burton’s Death in the Tunnel, for example–whenever Inspector Arnold and his friend, amateur sleuth Merrion meet, they exchange theories and alternate scenarios, and the reader inevitably enters into the detective dynamic and the puzzle of the crime. In Rowland’s novel, the same dynamic doesn’t exist. Inspector Shelley allows Jimmy to collaborate but the reporter is definitely not an equal–Shelley doesn’t divulge exactly how and where he gets his information.

In Calamity in Kent, the emphasis is on the murder victim’s business dealings in Broadgate, and while the number of murder suspects are limited, these aspects, along with the fact that the body is found inside a locked lift, are both subsumed and sidelined by the victim’s possible black market connections. So the emphasis is not so much who-dunnit as why, with Inspector Shelley obviously rationalising that if he can solve the puzzle of the victim’s criminal life, all other parts of the puzzle will fall into place. If you are the sort of reader who wants to solve the puzzle–in this case, how was the victim inside a locked cliff lift, then you may feel a little disappointed that you can’t run with this aspect of the tale. If, however, you are content to be inside Jimmy’s head, then you will sit back, relax and enjoy his story.

Jimmy balances his desire to deliver a salacious story to the paper that’s hired him against his promise to Shelley that he’ll keep some aspects of the case confidential. When presented with moral dilemmas regarding his responsibility towards the case, Jimmy’s self-interest rules, but there’s always a little moral quibbling:

I know that this was something in every way reprehensible. I ought not to have tried to keep anything to myself. But I salved my conscience by telling myself that Shelley had not told me by any means all that he knew.

It’s clear that Jimmy is first and foremost a newspaper man. He has a nose for character and behaviour and acts rather -un-detective-like upon occasion. For example, he decides that a couple of suspects are innocent and treats them accordingly. His view of the crime is always light-hearted, and he’s content to be Shelley’s bloodhound as he knows this will, ultimately, profit his career.

“I suppose that even the discovery of corpses is something which may become more or less normal if it happens often enough.”

Review copy

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The Colour of Her Eyes by Conan Kennedy

“This is not a girl,”  he told himself. “This is a little chemical time bomb standing here in front of me, waiting to go off.”

One of the best things about blogging, is that I get tips about books that I might not have found otherwise. So for Irish author Conan Kennedy’s The Colour of Her Eyes, I owe a big thank you to Tom at A Common Reader. Tom posted a review of the book a few months back. I read the review, had a (generous) sample of the book sent to my kindle, and then ordered a copy. For N. American readers, this book came at the ridiculous give-away price of $2.99.

The Colour of Her Eyes is a crime novel, a hell of a suspenseful page-turner (or should I say button pusher since I read it on the Kindle). When the novel begins, we know that a crime has been committed, and we also know that it’s something quite ugly. The story unfolds through a series of interviews conducted by D.I. Harris, a member of the Sussex police with John Stanley Dexter, a well-to-do married, middle-aged businessman who 15 years or so earlier worked, unhappily,  as a teacher at Walthamstow  School. The interviews–written in the form of transcripts–alternate with Dexter’s memories of his past and Harris’s mordant ruminations as he investigates the case. Just what that ‘case’ is unfolds in time as the combative interviews play out. Here’s Harris interviewing, or should I say, interrogating Dexter about a girl who attended the school:

“I’m a tit man. And I’m telling you she was wearing a skimpy little top with her tits poking out one end and her belly the other. Am I right?”

“Not quite.”

“Where did I go wrong?”

“Well in those days you wouldn’t see their stomach. It wasn’t the fashion.”

“Ok. You’re the  expert. On underage girls. I’m only the amateur here. But I bet I’m half right. I bet her tits were falling out of her top.”

“It was pretty low cut, yes.”

“You in the fashion business, the rag trade?”

“You know I’m not.”

“Well stop saying things like it was pretty low cut. What we both mean is her fucking tits were falling out of her fucking top. Am I right?”

“Ok, you’re right.”

“Good. Now. So what do we have here. This little teenage poppet. Tits all over the shop. With nice thighs.”

“I didn’t say that. Didn’t say anything about thighs.”

“No you didn’t, but you said she was wearing a skirt.”

“That is not the same thing.”

“Did she not have nice thighs?”

And so it begins again.

Dexter’s memories take him 15 years back into the past to 1996 when he briefly worked as a 25-year-old teacher:

Six months teaching and already he hated the little fuckers. Oh ok, put it a bit more diplomatically, he just didn’t trust teenagers.

He’s chaperoning a disco, feeling he was “too fucking old to be at a teenagers’ disco”   when he meets a 15-year-old teenage jailbait of a temptress who calls herself Moonshine–a girl with remarkable green eyes:

She still didn’t smile, but looked at him intensely. A lot more intensely that he would have expected, with the vodka and drugs and whatever else. That look reminded him of some animal behind bars, in a zoo. There’s a moment when it suddenly catches your eyes. And you realise that you haven’t a clue who is in there. This was that moment. It shook him up a little, unnerved him a bit.

I don’t want to look into this girl’s eyes, he realised.

She’ll draw me in. And I’ll drown. And I’ll end up on a sex register.

As it turns out, and it comes as no surprise, teaching just isn’t Dexter’s calling. He moves on to the business world and as would fate would have it, 5 years after the disco, as a sales manager, he runs into Moonshine (real name Ruth Taylor) who’s waitressing, supporting a child and who’s been on the game. Dexter eventually becomes a rather well-heeled executive who owns a large country home with the baggage of all the material accoutrements–including a pony for one of his children and a wife who demands some ridiculously pretentious social markers. While Dexter may be comfortable financially, there’s something missing from his life. Meeting Ruth again is a momentous occasion which changes Dexter and Ruth’s lives for ever, and then, rather strangely, fate seems to throw them together again in five-year intervals.

These meetings–which may or may not be chance–occur over the years, and Dexter discusses them partly through the police interviews, and partly through memory. Perhaps due to Ruth’s cynicism and life experience, gradually the age gap between Dexter and Ruth appears to shrink. Meanwhile Dexter’s discontent with his wife, Yvette grows:

No, Dexter couldn’t really stand Yvette.

But she was good with the children, and he loved her for that. And he had loved her for all sorts of things too, once. So he loved her for that too.

“She’s volatile,” he said to his boss that night, that particular night after Yvette had stormed out of the room. Not that it had to be any particular night. Yvette stormed out of rooms quite a lot. But disagreement about EU politics was her starting gun for the current storm. Yvette thought most countries should be like Belgium. Only more so.

Due to the novel’s clever structure in which gems of information are parcelled out through police transcripts and memories, author Conan Kennedy creates intensity, suspense, and an irresistible desire to get to the truth. The truth however, proves to be elusive, and Harris’s frustrations with Dexter grow exponentially. When the story begins, Dexter seems to be the main character, but as the plot plays out, that role seems to shift to Harris. There’s no small amount of envy directed from Harris towards Dexter:

A bloke turning fifty with a good job seems to have most things already. Apart from time, and youth, and young women in the bed. Yes, apart from that sort of thing.

Harris looked at women. Pretty. And pretty much out of reach, to a detective inspector turning fifty. Glass between me and the stuff in the windows, he decided, and too much time between me and the girls. Out of reach. Well shit, maybe not completely out of reach. But much like the stuff in the shop windows. He didn’t really want them an awful lot, or need them much. But he watched them anyway.

Harris, who’s fifty, looking at a quiet retirement, and attracted to a young female PC is aware that some of his behaviour crosses or least comes dangerously close to the borders of sexual harassment. Perhaps this explains his barely camouflaged resentment of John Dexter because his suspect is a man who’s crossed the lines of various taboos more than once. Kennedy creates a massive amount of tension–tension between private and public lives, tension between what is desired and what is attainable, and tension between the haves and the have-nots. With this much tension, something’s got to give, and that’s where murder enters the picture. As Harris notes:

That’s a bad triangle. Women and money and revenge.

A great deal of the novel is set in the drabness of the seaside town of Bognor Regis, and somehow the descriptions of the deserted beach and its “long rows of empty deckchairs” suit the atmosphere of this moody psychological crime novel.  I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed in the ending and found myself with a lot of questions, but then, as I clicked to the final page….there’s a sequel! And no doubt some of the questions I have will find answers there. So… Conan, if you read this, where’s the sequel?

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Beast of Burden by Ray Banks

For the title of Ray Banks’ fourth and final novel in the Cal Innes series, I have to think that the Rolling Stones song played some role. In Beast of Burden, Manchester PI Cal Innes is dogged by two old enemies: Detective Donley (otherwise known as Donkey) and crime lord Morris Tiernan. There’s a lot of history between Cal, Donley and Tiernan, and Beast of Burden finds Cal weakened badly, walking with a cane, and barely able to speak following a drug-related stroke. His condition leads both Donley and Tiernan to believe that they can finally own Cal. But Cal is no one’s bitch, and as the Stones song says: “I’ll never be your beast of burden.”

Cal and his partner Frank run their PI business out of a boxing gym for ex-cons run by a friend named Paolo, and when the book begins, Cal is hired by Tiernan to find his missing son Mo. Tiernan cast Mo off some time before and now Mo has disappeared. Cal doesn’t share the Mo Tiernan case with Frank, and he uses Frank’s distraction with another case to search for Mo on his own. Exactly why Cal wants to fly solo becomes apparent as the book continues.

Meanwhile Detective Sergeant Donley “Donkey,” up to his old ways, is in hot water in the department. Cal’s brother addict Declan was once Donley’s grass, but now that Declan is dead, Donley’s interest in Cal increases. Donley thinks that Cal will make the perfect replacement for his brother, and once Donley learns that Cal is investigating the disappearance of Mo Tiernan, he wants in on the action.

The book goes back and forth between its two narrators–Cal and Donley. Cal tries to find Mo, and Donley’s always one step behind with the goal of owning Cal and also of nailing the Tiernans. Donley has to be one of the nastiest fictional coppers ever created. He gravitates towards the weaker, bottom feeders–people he can threaten, manipulate, and thrash, so naturally Cal, called “Mong” by Donley, falls into that category.  Here’s Donley hassling Paddy, “a nine-carat smackhead.”

I drew my car up alongside Paddy as he walked. When I honked the horn, two short bursts, he near shit himself.

“Y’alright, Paddy?” I didn’t know you were out.”

He saw us, pulled a face. “Aw, fuck.”

“That’s not much of a hello, is it?” I cranked the wheel, jumped the pavement. This lad wanted to pump his feet, I could keep driving, run the bastard down. I flung open the car door and he back ed up a couple of steps. I got out of the car, pulled out my baccy tin, started to roll a ciggie. “Were you going to run there, Pads?”

“Nah,” he said, wiping his feet like he had an itch on the soles.”I wouldn’t run Sergeant.”

“Detective.”

“Right, Detective. Not daft enough to run, am I?”

“Used to be a fuckin’ rabbit, as I recall.” I looked around the street, but the place was dead apart from a slow rain that’d started as soon as I left the poof’s club. Right enough, most people who lived out here, they’d still be in their kip, sleeping it off.

Donkey decides there are no witnesses:

“How’s about you and me, we go up that alley over there? I think we need to have a quiet word.”

I pointed up behind him. An alley, long and narrow, boxed in high on both sides, led to the other estate. Looked like the kind of corridor Paddy used to squat down when he was committed fully to smack and fuck knows what else. He obviously didn’t like the idea, pulled another De Niro face.

“You still on the gear?” I said.

“No.”

“Right then.” I pointed the way. “Up you go.”

“The fuck?”

I put a hand on him, pushed him in his hollow chest towards the alley. He was a streak of piss, nearly buckled under my shove, and when I pushed him again, he flinched like he was set to come back at us.

“What?” I said. “You want something, Paddy?”

Yeah, he wanted to get fucking bolshy, push us back. But he knew, he put the finger on us, I’d have him back in a piss-soaked cell, the kind with the thick stink that got right in your clothes. See how he fancied going back to his ‘mate’ with that smell on him.

Paddy trudged into the alley. I checked behind us, made sure there was nobody with a nose on them, or about to do one with my car. Then I followed him, rubbing my hands to get them warm. I saw the puke and broken glass on the ground, reckoned this’d be perfect.

Beast of Burden is for those who like their gritty crime novels dark & hardboiled. I loved it. For those interested, I had not read the other titles in the series before reading Beast of Burden, but this did not get in the way of my enjoyment. While Cal has a sorry history with the Tiernans and Donley, past incidents are referenced and can be understood. I now own all four books in the series.

Author Ray Banks first created Cal Innes as a character in a short story.  Here’s the order of Cal Innes novels:

Saturday’s Child

Sucker Punch (British title Donkey Punch)

No More Heroes

Beast of Burden

My copy read on my kindle courtesy of the publisher via netgalley.

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Tigerlily’s Orchids by Ruth Rendell

“Many people lead virtuous lives not because they resist temptation, but because temptation never comes their way.”

As a long-time fan of Ruth Rendell, I am always ready to grab her latest book, so fast on the heels of Portobello comes another stand-alone tale, Tigerlily’s Orchids. Just as Portobello focused on the occupants of a particular neighbourhood, Tigerlily’s Orchids concentrates on the residents of the flats of Lichfield House in the outer suburbs of London.

The newest resident of the flats in Stuart Font, a fortunate young man in many ways. He has the looks of a male model (and the vanity to match) and he’s just inherited 400,000 pounds from an eccentric great-aunt. While Stuart’s parents urge their son to get a job (and even send possible employment his way), Stuart has other plans. Against his parents’ advice to wait out the falling home prices, he spends half the inheritance on a flat in Lichfield house. With the rest of the money, he intends to be a gentleman of leisure and perhaps take a year or two before seeking employment. His plans are complicated by the fact he has an expensive lover–Claudia, a deputy fashion editor for a newspaper. She expects to be taken to the best restaurants and even at one point manoeuvres the purchase of a necklace for a mere 1000 pounds. One of the reasons Stuart is disinclined to work is so that he can continue his complicated affair with Claudia, and that means he needs to keep his days free so that they can spend them in bed together while her husband is at work.

When the book begins, Stuart is planning a house-warming party, and he’s drawing up a guest list that will include all the other residents: three single female students, Dr. Michael Constantine and his wife, a couple of middle-aged singles,  Marius Potter, Rose Preston-Jones, and Olwen, a sixty year old alcoholic. Also in attendance will be a couple of Stuart’s friends, the building’s caretaker and his buxom wife and an assortment of neighbours. As it turns out, the party is a significant occasion that ends badly.

The novel establishes a growing sense of malignancy which is coupled with the idea that no one will emerge unscathed from the events that take place. To describe Tigerlily’s Orchids as a crime novel is to ignore the subtle nuances of the plot, for while many crimes take place in these pages, not all of these crimes can be labelled neatly with a perp and a victim. Rendell’s characters are considered normal people–the sort of people we know and work with. A fair number of the characters have something or another to be ashamed about, and the crimes in these pages run the gamut from murder to enabling addiction. In Portobello, addiction played a role (the main character was addicted to diet sweets), and in Tigerlily’s Orchids we see the same sort of behaviours: addiction coupled with obsession. While Olwen’s addiction to alcohol moves blindly forward, gathering momentum as the book continues, it becomes clear that many other characters suffer from dangerous obsessions. Stuart is obsessed with his lover, Claudia, but eventually those roles as reversed, but there are several other obsessions afoot. And these obsessions, as Rendell so deliciously shows, blind the various characters to reality with catastrophic results. Dr. Michael Constantine, for example, is a non-practicing physician who writes a column. His obsession with crushing any sort of non-medical treatments through his writing takes him on a one-way ticket to unemployment as he refuses to even consider any other point of view.

By far my favourite character is Olwen:

Reclining, her feet up on a cushion, she reflected as she often did, on having, at the age of sixty, attained her lifelong aim. Through two marriages, both unsatisfactory, seemingly endless full-time work, houses she had disliked, uncongenial stepchildren, and dour relations, she was at last doing what she had always wanted to do but had rigidly, for various reasons, stringently controlled. She was drinking the unlimited amount of alcohol she had longed for. She was, she supposed, but without rancour or regret, drinking herself to death.

Olwen has given up on relationships and humanity in general. She doesn’t want human communication. Instead she’s locked in a tango of death with alcohol. She’s devised a way of coping with people–especially people who preach to her or try to get in the way of her addiction. Her main, practically only, response to anyone is “not really”:

Olwen had long ago discovered that this was a response which may be made with impunity to almost any enquiry, including “Are you well?’ and “Are you free on Saturday?” Not that people often asked her anything. She made it plain that she was mostly inaccessible.

Rendell proceeds to show just how that phrase “not really” works so well for Olwen’s desire to alienate people. Think I might try it out.

The lives of Rendell’s characters are set against the economic downturn, and the action reflects the changes. As shops close or hold desperate sales, the characters respond accordingly. The recession impacts the characters’ relationships, and it certainly turns up the heat. In one scene, Stuart loads up on furniture from a local shop. He doesn’t particularly like the stuff he buys but it’s on sale, and he can’t resist buying a mirror for the vanity feedback it offers.

Tigerlily’s Orchids explores the horrors of suburbia, and here Rendell creates a neighbourhood crucible, adding just enough of the ingredients–passion, jealousy, and obsession until she achieves combustion. While The Tree of Hands is my favourite Rendell (and I doubt it’ll ever be supplanted), Tigerlily’s Orchids is a welcome return to this author.

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Doing the Business: Inside the Kray’s Secret Network of Glamour and Violence by Charlie Kray

“The ties that bound the brothers were unbreakable silken nooses.”

In Britain during the 50s and 60s, the Kray brothers, twins Reg and Ron operated a criminal empire. The Kray Firm included protection rackets, nightclubs, and various business scams–and the Krays eventually expanded into a lucrative relationship with the mafia by disposing of stolen bonds.

Doing the Business: Inside the Krays’ Secret Network of Glamour and Violence is co-written by Charlie Kray (Reg and Ron’s older brother) and author Colin Fry. Fry argues that the Krays “are now a symbol of their age and of their chosen profession.” And Fry is correct. The Krays are some of the most notorious figures in Britain’s history of crime. But it’s not just the crimes the Krays committed that make them so significant–it’s how they rose from the slums of the East End, their spread into the swanky West End, and their eventual fall from power that make the story of the Krays so fascinating. The story of the Krays cannot be separated from the times or the class system that created them.

When reading Doing the Business one should bear in mind that Charlie Kray is the co-author of the book. Once you grasp this fact, then the things the book covers–and does not cover–begin to make perfect sense. And it’s also a good idea to remember that at the time the book was published, both Charlie and Reg Kray were still alive. Charlie Kray’s authorial input inevitably influences the story, and when the book begins, it covers a description of the Kray brothers’ brief boxing careers–including a rather lengthy description of Charlie’s valiant fight with Lew Lazar. From here the story moves to the conscription of the twins into the army. Ron and Reg Kray were demobbed in 1954 after serving nine-month sentences for desertion. Interestingly enough, their father also deserted during WWII.

From here the Krays moved onto their first club–the Regal–a tatty billiard hall, but this was just the first stop in their career. The twins were only 21 years old when they took over this building using a variety of creative tactics. They battled rival gangs for a foothold in the East End, and within a few years, the Regal became a base of operations for the Krays as their empire–the “Firm”–expanded. The book details some fascinating aspects of how they ran their business– the “Long-Firm” business scams, and the protection rackets with the system of “nipping and pensions.” According to the authors, Charlie Kray wanted his younger brothers to move out of their illegal activities, but they didn’t believe they could “make a substantial living out of a legimate business operation.”

The book is strongest when covering the Rise of the Krays. The authors argue that the Krays’ operations were subject to greater scrutiny once they crossed over into the fashionable wealthy West End. The Krays’ club acquisitions are detailed–the Double R, the Wellington Way Club, the Kentucky, Esmeralda’s Barn, etc. Ron’s mental disintegration is also analyzed–along with his “unpredictable violence,” his fascination with swords, bayonets, and sabres, his stay at the Long Grove Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. The book also details the Krays’ fascination with the rich and famous–along with their relationships with George Raft, Judy Garland, and Barbara Windsor. There’s also considerable detail here about how Ron and Reg became connected with the Mafia and what exactly that relationship involved. How the Krays fared in the “Nigerian Fiasco” is covered in one very enjoyable section of the book.

On the down side, there’s a great deal missing from the book. Reg’s marriage to Francis Shea and her subsequent suicide are mentioned briefly in passing. Ron’s taste for young men is also only briefly mentioned. Personal details are largely absent from the book, and there are some instances when the authors play a sort of catch-up in order to fill the reader in. For example, at one point the book discusses a meeting that takes place in the Krays’ parents’ flat. The authors then slip in the detail that the parents are away at Ron’s posh country home in Suffolk–The Brooks, but this acquisition has not been mentioned before. While deliberately omitting personal details about the Krays’ personal life, the book sidetracks into pages and pages about Marilyn Monroe and her relationship with the Kennedys.

It’s also odd that the crimes that sent Reg and Ron Kray to prison for the rest of their lives–the murders of Jack “the Hat” McVitie and George Cornell–are only very briefly tacked on at the very end of the book. Even though these murders occurred in 1966 (Cornell) and 1967 (McVitie), these pivotal events are not integrated into the book’s timeline, but appear to have been tacked on at the end as a sort of afterthought. For a history of the Krays, obviously their brother Charlie had an insight few others had, but Doing The Business: Inside the Krays’ Secret Network of Glamour and Violence leaves frustrating gaps for the reader. If you are at all interested in reading about the Krays, then Doing the Business is definitely a book to read, but this is not the definitive book–and it’s not the only book you will want to read on the subject. Black and white photos accompany the text.

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