Bent by Joe Thomas
A pacy crime novel set in early 60s Soho, contemporary in style but firmly rooted in period. This is a landscape of clubs, gangsters, girls, punters and cops; there’s an air of menace, a stench of corruption and decay. The protagonist is infamous real life copper Harold ‘Tanky’ Challenor; London legend, war hero, corrupt policeman and possibly certifiable ‘lunatic’. A man with a lousy sense of humour and a brutal sense of justice. Tanky is a loner, he means to clean up his patch, the how is not so important, any criminal in his sights is fair game. Tanky’s got a plan – set the thugs against each other, get them fired up enough to make mistakes and then pounce on them. A fit-up is fine, after all they’re all guilty of something. If it comes to a battle of wills, or fists for that matter, Tanky only knows how to win, he’s always on the attack. He’s non-stop – a man on a mission, booze fuelled, sleep deprived, driven. It won’t end well for the villains but it won’t end well for Tanky either; career peak ’62 – career end ’64. At his own trial he contemplates letting down Doris, his wife, while the court decides if he’s fit to plead or not.
This is a quick read and yet it’s rich in detail and story, it’s not just the narrative drive it’s the style that is exciting. This is one hell of a story, an indelible part of London history, folklore, made real, earthy and bitter sweet. You may know the glamour, the pop, the style of the sixties, this is the other side of the coin – darker, grittier, real. Tanky went to battle twice, once during the war, then again in 60s Soho.
This is the first novel in a loosely connected trilogy of London books that will deal with the cities recent history. Thomas is a fine writer, getting better with each book. Many readers will know his work through the Mario Leme quartet set in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which will be completed in march next year when the fourth volume, Brazilian Psycho, is published.
Arcadia Books, April 30, paperback, £9.99.
Bent by Joe Thomas