Literary London Crime: The Dark Eyes of London

Monday, 25 June 2012 - 1:00pm
Museum of London





Overview

London is a city of secrets, a shifting, seething mass of intrigue, venality and violence, in constant cultural flux. The perfect setting for crime fiction - but how does the modern writer decode this centuries' old conurbation?
Cathi Unsworth investigates those authors who haunt certain regions of the capital – Ken Bruen’s Dirty South; Dreda Say Mitchell’s Illicit East; Derek Raymond’s West End Jungle – those, like Jake Arnott, who create epic pop histories from our forgotten past; and those, like Iain Sinclair, whose meditations on the geography of violence have inspired a different kind of crime fiction.
Along the way, she will also explore the cult writers who helped to shape these contemporary authors' visions and the clandestine vocabulary of the City of Slang.

This is part of the “Literary London Crime” Mondays at One Series.
The other lectures in the series include the following:
   Crime in Dickens' London
   The Postmodern Detective: Contemporary London Crime Fiction
   "A Stout Heart in the Great Cesspool": Arthur Conan Doyle and London






Transcript of the lecture

25 June 2012

Literary London Crime:
The Dark Eyes of London

Cathi Unsworth

DS wife Edie, daughter Dahlia. Edie pushes Dahlia under a bus  ‘on the afternoon of Hitler’s birthday, April 20th, 1979.’

‘Where I go, the ghosts go. I go where the evil is’ – DR, The Devil’s Home on Leave (1985)

Jake quotes Brecht at the beginning of The Long Firm, from The Threepenny Opera:

‘What’s a jenny compared with a share certificate? What’s breaking into a bank compared with founding one?’

At the beginning of truecrime, 1995 Tony Meehan is writing for The [Victor] Groombridge Press, celebrity gangster memoirs, spin-offs of the nascent Lad Mag culture. Eddie Doyle, a former member of Harry Starks’ gang and erstwhile husband of Ruby Ryder has just been released from jail. Tony is ghosting his biography.

‘True Crime, what a racket it is. I prefer to rearticulate this term into a lowe case composite: truecrime. Like George Orwell’s newspeak words thoughtcrime or sexcrime… But this newspeak is imposed on me not by a totalitarian state but by my publishing dictatorship, the Groombridge Press. True and Crime, words that were once at ods with each other as much as alibi and detection, now conspire to create trashy bestsellers.

Meanwhile, Julie McClusky, daughter of Jock, killed by Mooney at Harry’s Spanish hideaway in TLF, masquerading as actress Julie Kincaid, conspires with her posh boy Ladbroke Grove Trustafarian boyfriend Jez and his lad mag editor accomplice Piers (Sorted) on a script turning gangsterism into slick comdey, Lock Stock and Two Smirking Barrels called Scrapyard Bulldog. Julie believes Harry killed her father. She channels her rage into a finely-honed obsession, sliding under his skin when he shows her the first draft of his script, devoid of any women.

‘An absence of women was merley part of the absence of any sense of consequence to the actions in the screenplay. It was a complete parody of what had afflicted by life. Violence rendered as slapstick, tragedy made comic. One big joke, ugly and mocking. But there was something quite brilliant about it as well. It struck me that this was what so many people thought about men like my dad. Jez had got something. The laughter of cruelty. But I’d have the last laugh, I thought.’

Gaz Kelly, living the Essex highlife as a drug-dealing, bouncing entrepreneur – until the break-up of his marriage tailspins into a bad deal and two dead men in a Range Rover on the Essex marshes holding all his cash. Gaz has been working with Beadsley since the Seventies, as a roadie for the ska band Earthquake, then moving into dodgier waters. Comes out of prison for the first time in 1982 still wearing his hooligan gear and gets cruised by a gay man in the same clobber. Now it is the hooligans who are wearing pastel knitwear and Italian designer shirts.

’Poofs dressed as hooligans, hooligans dressed like poofs. Well, I thought, I’d seen it all now.’ But he hasn’t. London changes before Gaz’s incredulous eyes many times again.

Gaz ends up working the rave scene with a young toff called Ben Holroyd Carter, who, having been muscled out of the scene by Beardlsy’s villains, reappears as the entrepreneur behind The Groove Corporation (Ministry of Sound).

When Old Compton Street is given a makeover, Gaz ends up comparing in the Comedy Club, the latest incarnation of Harry Starks’ old Starlight Club. Through this, he starts getting bit part work as an actor, and ends up taking one of the leads in Scrapyard Bulldog, and the world of celebrity opens up before him. Meanwhile, his mate Dan gets him a warehouse in Old Street for a knockdown price.

Also filling in the gaps of the narrative are Thursby’s diaries, mined by Sheehan for extra curricular detail on his Doyle stor, end up leading Eddie to Harry and the discovery of the missing gold bullion.

Tony ends up writing Gaz’s memoirs for the Groombridge Press.

WEST

HANGAR LANE
He was found in the shrubbery in front of the Word of God House in Albatross Road, West Five. It was the thirtieth of March, during the evening rush-hour. It was bloody cold; and an office worker had tripped over the body when he was caught short going home. I don’t know if you know Albatross Road where it runs into Hangar Lane, but if you do you’ll appreciate what a ghastly lonely area it is, with the surface-level tube station on one side of the street, and dank, blind buildings, weeping with damp, on the other. — DR, He Died With His Eyes Open (1984)

HAMMERSMITH
At half past seven on the cold, sunny evening of Wednesday April 13th, Billy McGruder went up to a passer-by in Hammersmith.
‘Excuse me, mate. You know a pub called the Nine Foot Drop?’
‘The Drop? Sure. You cross over the Broadway here, go up King Street, turn out of Ravenscourt Road into Tofton Avenue and it’s on the right. Ten-minute walk. You can’t miss it – great barracks of a place.’ – DR The Devil’s Home on Leave (1985)

GOLDHAWK ROAD
A mystery. That’s what they called them. A girl come down South to escape God knows what drudgery. A runaway. No past, no history. A mystery. Looking for somewhere to stay. Easy to pick up. Easy to impress.

Billy noticed her first. He was sitting in a booth of the Ace all-night café in Goldhawk Road with Jimmy and Stan. They’d done a job that day and were flush with cash and still buzzing with the excitement of it all. She was at the back peering gloomily over a long-nursed cappucino. Frith turned to scum on the glazed rim of the cup. Duffle bag on the seat next to her and a worn-out look on her young face. Telltale signs.
– JA, He Kills Coppers (2001)

Billy Porter has been forged in Malaya, 1956, where he gets a taste for killing and the necessary skills to survive undetected for long periods of time that separates him from the real Harry Roberts. For Billy Porter gets away. Finds a new life for himself working on fairgrounds, the fringes of the gypsy life and the nascent travelling community. Arnott’s youthful involvement in various student anarchist theatre groups led him indirectly to the story of Roberts.

NOTTING HILL
Tony Meehan:
Against my better judgement I went in the evening to this meeting that Julian had spoken of. It was in the basement of a bookshop on Kensington Park Road.  A motley crew assembled – beards, beads, multicoloured clothes, peace sign badges. Everyone talking about Utopia, Peace, Liberation, Revolution, Love. God did they go on about Love. Julian and I both stood out as being the only people in the room with short hair and ordinary clothes. I guessed they must have thought us real squares. Normal. But when I saw the way that one of the women talked, looking in our direction, tyring to include us as she rambled on about sexual libertaion, I figured that the beatniks were tyring to include us. Julian suppressed giggles as this silly cow wittered on. This bunch of well spoken hippies liked to call themselves freaks, as if it were something glamorous and bohemian. As if they had any idea what horror it was to be a real freak.

We went for a drink afterwards. Henekey’s on Portobello Road. It was full of freaks.

‘Not very beautiful, are they?’ I commented. ‘The Beautiful People.’ – JA He Kills Coppers (2001) Tony sets up a drugs’ bust on Henekeys the following weekend that puts him in the right place at the right time to be first on the scene of Billy Porter’s trail of carnage.

CENTRAL

SOHO
It’s called the Factory by the villains because it has a bad reputation for doing subjects over in the interrogation rooms; people who still think our British policemen are wonderful ought to spend a night or three at the Factory banged up or put under the light by a team of three. We call it the Factory too, but, if you want to know, it’s the big, modern, concrete police station that controls the West End north of Tottenham Court Road, south to Hyde Park Corner, northwest to Marble Arch and east to Trafalgar Square. The building itself is in Poland Street, bang opposite Marks & Sparks. — DR, He Died With His Eyes Open (1984).

West End Central police station, summer of 1966, year of the World Cup:

West End Central, Savile Row. C Division. Crowded Crime Room briefing. Nipper Read out fromt giving the speil. Clampdown on vice in Soho. Reinforcements drafted in to swamp the patch. Subtle hints: West End Central needs a bit of a clean-up itself. The area has a reputation – nasty rumours about officers on the take. Newly appointed DCI Nipper wants to change all that, apparently. – JA He Kills Coppers (2001) Frank Taylor bent for the job copper. Best mate Dave Thomas is killed by Billy Porter, based on Harry Roberts, who murdered three Met officers in the summer of 1966, and whose name was taken up as a terrace chant in the hooligan early Eighties: ‘Harry Roberts is our friend/He kills coppers.’ Tony Meehan is a newspaper reporter on a lurid tabloid who has a secret life as a psychopathic killer, breif spells of murderous frenzy punctuate his tightly contained existence, indeed, he ends up smothering the aging Teddy Thursby in order to get his hands on the dissolute peer’s explosive diaries.

Harry enters The Casbah Lounge to the haunting strains of Johnny Remember Me:

A group of Earl’s Court Queens were there with cheap polari sophistication. Vada this, vada that. Casual bitchiness judging by anybody’s fleeting object of affection.

Then he came in. Thick set in a dark suit and tightly knotted tie. Looking out of place amidst all the loud clothes the young homos were sporting. Standing out sombre and heavy among the bright shirts and hipster slacks from Vince or Lord John. He looked around the coffee bar, negotiating all the signals, all the brief flashes of eye contact with a weary frown as if his imposing presence was a burden. He looked clumsy and awkward, intimidated for all his toughness. All the looks, the staring. In places he was more used to, spielers, drinking clubs, heavy boozers like the Blind Beggar or the Grave Maurice that level of eyeballing would have seemed an affront, a prelude to combat. Here, he had to get used to the fierce looks and learn a new way of staring. He had to come off guard in order to make contact. 

Harry had an expensive flat in Chelsea. He poured us both a large brandy and showed me his photograph collection. Harry with Johnnie Ray, with Ruby Ryder, Tim Driberg MP, Sonny Liston. Pictures of him looking stern faced next to film stars, boxers, the great and the good. – JA, The Long Firm (1999)

Terry’s first night in the Stardust:

I got drink. I wasn’t used to boozing. I staggered into the getns, splashed some cold water in my face and dried it on the towel machine. Jack the Hat was handing over a huge bag of bills to the modernist child.

‘Fancy a doob mate,’ he called over to me. – JA, The Long Firm (1999)

Jack’s entrance in Part 3 of the book:

Soho Square. Park the cream and blue Mark II Zodiac and walk around to The Flamingo on Wardour Street. Mod club. Spade music blaring out below the pavement. R&B. Soul, they call it. Tip some hat brim at the doorman and slip him a note with a sly grin. In. Downstairs. Check the nag in the inside suit pocket. Pills. All kinds. Purple hearts, french blues, nigger minstrels, black mombers. Enough to keep those mod boys and girls dancing all night to that spade music…

New record starts. Needle scratch static. Engine noise. Rat-tat-tat-tat gunfire. Car tyres squealing. Crash. A lairy spade voice mouths off. AL CAPONE’S GUNS DON’T ARGUE. – JA, The Long Firm (1999)

ST JAMES
Tedd Thursby (Lord Boothby) after being introduced to Harry Starks by Tom Driberg MP at a party in Harry’s Chelsea Flat, takes him to White’s, the oldest gentleman’s club in London, correctly deducing that: ‘It retains a touch of aristocratic raffishness that has all but vanished from the rest of clubland, a quality that I instictively knew Harry would be drawn to.’

Harry leant back in his leather armchair, taking a sip of brandy & soda, casually surveying the fixtures & fittings.
‘Nice place,’ he commented, ‘wouldn’t mind joining myself.’
I smiled, hoping he was joking. – JA, The Long Firm (1999)

FITZROVIA
The office was on the second floor of a dingy building behind Charlotte Street, sandwiched between a Pakistani restaurant called the Allahabad, European And Indian Dishes and a delicatessen that specialised in tinned mangoes, chillies and ladies’ fingers. The bow window… peered out at a rather alarming angle onto a public lavatory, kept permanently locked against queers and youths who wanted to give head or shoot up in there. Behind this urinary redoubt was a pub called the Quadrant, in which the Factory took a permanent interest. — DR, He Died With His Eyes Open (1984)

EUSTON ROAD/WARREN STREET
The Midnight Bell was open. The public was at liberty to enter The Midnight Bell. No sudden eruption, no announcing sound proclaimed the fact. Only the click of sliding bolts, and the steady burning of electric light behind a door which might be Pushed.

But who was going to Push? A deeper silence fell. Bob, with his right foot on the rail, and his newspaper on the bar, continued to read… Ella, leaning over the bar with her hands clasped, stared into the distance and listened to London.

…A grim, yet burdened and plaintive sound – the dim roar of traffic in the Tottenham Court Road – the far thunder of trams where the Hampstead Road began – the yelling of children in Warren Street near by… And still no one Pushed. — PH Twenty Thousand Streets (The Midnight Bell, 1929)

There were a lot of people fighting now, and the noise was so loud you couldn’t hear anything. The Welsh boys were charging about and yelling at the tops of their voices. One of them sent young Benny spinning into a table behind which a man and a woman were hiding. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw that the woman on the floor had no underclothes on. The man with her was blubbering with fear and shouting something about the police. He had come up from Epsom to see the Life, and didn’t like the view. — DW Wide Boys Never Work (1937)

TRAFALGAR SQUARE
For a few moments he stood still, resting on the parapet and looking at the unfortunates sitting huddled on the benches. Vaguely he remembered someone in prison telling him that it was essential to get a seat before eight if you were to get any sleep in at all. Why, he could not remember. Across on the corner of Northumberland Avenue the lurid sky-signs, stuttering across the building in front, mocked the outcasts. A chill wind was blowing up past King Charles I’s statue from Whitehall. It was twenty past nine.

The Gilt Kid began to feel depressed. Bums always made him feel unhappy. For some reason he felt a sort of responsibility for them. At the same time he knew that he was of their kin. He had sat penniless on those benches. It was not unlikely that he would have to do it again someday.

He moved away in the direction of the Strand with his hands deep in his trousers pockets… Suddenly he felt an awful sense of loneliness. — JC The Gilt Kid (1936)

SOUTH

BATTERSEA
The Henry of Agincourt public house was in the middle of Greenwich Lane, and very antique it looked to, compared to the high rise blocks that surrounded it. A few West Indian heads hung glumly out of the windows in ballooning Rastafarian hats and three men in jeans were watching a fourth dig a hole in the pavement to the strains of a tranny. The pub had painted medieval wooden beams at the front, and the sign displayed the monarch after which it was named. He was wearing a large crown, a doubtful piece of armour and an expression of quiet, or possibly drunken confidence, perring up the road as if he had seen a lot of Frenchmen. — DR, He Died With His Eyes Open (1984)

OLD KENT ROAD
Romilly Place was off the Lewisham end of the Old Kent Road, near the clock tower; the houses were three-storey tenements and filthy. It was a dangerous bloody district too, especially for someone like Staniland – what we call a mixed area, a third unemployed skinhead and two-thirds unemployed black. It was a cul-de-sac, and in the wamth of the spring evening, the air was filled with screams as kids and teenagers raced around the wrecked cars that littered the pavement. There werew about twenty houses, mostly with broken windows and vandalised front doors. Some idiot on the council had had the idea of putting a public callbox on the corner; it now contained no telephone, no glass and no door – a directory leaf or two skittered miserably about on the breeze. — DR, He Died With His Eyes Open (1984)

STOCKWELL
A mini-cab later and he arrived in Stockwell, where the pitbulls travelled in twos. Ludlow Road is near the tube station, a short mugging away. At that hour the streets were littered with 

the undead

the lost

and the frozen.

The building was a warren of bedsits. No lock on the front door. A wino was spread in the hall, his head came up, wheezed: ‘Is it Tuesday?’
‘No.’

Roberts wondered if the guy even knew the year but hey… he was going to argue? He said, ‘It’s Thursday, OK?’
‘Ah, good. I play golf on Tuesdays.’
Of course. — KB The McDead (2000)

BRIXTON
Never like going over the water. Injun country, the East London firm always call it. And Brixton? Well that’s fucking jungle land. Take a couple more bombers and head way down south.

The Ram Jam is a crumbling dancehall on Coldharbour Lane. Spade doormen look me up and down as I go in. Give them my best Jack the Lad grin and hand over a ten-bob note. Inside and it’s that mad chicka chicka chicka music echoing around the peeling décor. Full of black kids jerking round to that funny old beat. A few whiteys too but they’re all gathered in one corner like. It ain’t exactly racial harmony but there are one or two white girls showing out to the better looking coons on the dancefloor. – JA, The Long Firm (1999) To Jack’s amusement, his youthful protégé Beardsley has shaved off his hair and is wearing a pork pie hat. ‘All that mod stuff, they’re turning into hairy fairies,’ he explains. ‘At least the spades have got style.’

VAUXHALL
A whole square of houses had been taken over by squatters. The area had been earmarked for demolition in the late Seventies to make way for a new school. The existing tenants had been rehoused and the properties were boarded up. But then the plans for the school were postponed indefinitely and the education authority was left with over a hunderd empty homes on its hands. Squatters started to move in at the beginning of the Eighties and within five years the whole neighbourhood, save for a smattering of the original occupants who had refused to move, had been taken over by them.

They walked through the square. The half-derelict houses had been renovated in a haphazard way. Windows fixed with what was at hand, plumbing improvised, front doors painted garishly in a bricolage of occupation. There were graffiti on the walls: NO CRUISE, MEAT IS MURDER, STOP THE CITY, EAT THE RICH – strange, apocalyptic warnings. – JA He Kills Coppers (2001)

EAST

ROTHERHITHE
Far off the city traffic growled and a tug moaned on the river; I opened the blank doorway that side, above the rusted hoist, and looked down into the Thames that surged along twenty feet from the place. Then I crossed to the bags* and looked down at the cheerful logo on them. That was where the smell came from all right. That was less cheerful. — DR The Devil’s Home on Leave (1985) *Waitrose shopping bags. Billy McGruder, ex-squaddie turned contract killer. Brought up in NI, he explains to the DS: ‘Politics? Ireland? Ulster” Don’t give me that crap. They taught me the violence – the rest of politics is blackmail.

HACKNEY
Hackney isn’t the East End. It’s the mark of the outsider, when you hear someone call Hackney the East End.

Ingams Terrace – this is where I roomed – is part of a street that joins Stoke Newington High Street next to Amhurst Road, not far north of Dalston junction. It was probably named after the Victorian spec builder who ran it up; mostly two-storied houses, with basements, some bigger like old-fashioned vicarages; and at the end houses with passages at the sides from street to back garden. Big rooms, high ceilings with mouldings on them, small areas in front that used to have hedges or fancy iron railings but since the war have wooden railings or nothing at all: neglected gardens at the back trampled and heaped with rubbish. When I was a boy, these houses were occupied by superior working class families, who kept them in beautiful condition. Every year, when the fresh gravel and tar was laid on the road (and I can still smell the tar) the houses were bright with fresh paint. Now most of them are tenements. The street is still clean. All the people are in work. Their cars jam the kerbs on both sides. All is quiet and decent. Negroes have come to live, more every month. And Cypriots. The Negroes are of marvellous respectability. Every Sunday morning they all go to the Baptist Church in the High Street. You should see the men, in beautiful pearl grey suits and old fashioned trilbies with curled brims, the big women full of dignit, and the little girls in white muslin and bonnets. It slays me. They are the Victorian residents of this street, come back a century later, with black skins. And the Cypriots – they gather at their gates, throwing their children in the air and kissing them when they come down. The people in Ingrams Terrace don’t mix but they all say good morning to each other. I never smelt any hatred between one kind and another, not even an ember that might flare up in the future. – Alexander Baron, The Lowlife (1963) the story of Harryboy Boas who spends his life at the tracks, his winnings on Emile Zola books and his mistress, Marcia a hardnosed high class whore. When a new family, the Deaners move into his house, trouble starts. Highly strung, upwardly mobile mother Evelyn won’t let her curious young son Gregory out in the streets to mix with the other children, so he hangs around annoying Harryboy instead. Harassed husband Vic is studying to become a company secretary. One night at the track with Harryboy will turn all their lives upside down.

DREDA’S RHODES SQUARE IN A SIMILAR DISTRICT. Lord Tribulation, rapper, son of King Stir It Up.

LT lives ‘on the South Side of Hackney in a one-bedroom flat on the fourth and top floor of Earnest Bevin House. Bernie Ray, his long-lost girlfriend and violin player. When the King is found dead in Hoxton – a part of London he vowed never to return to – LT is forced to investigate who lured his father to his death. Bernie, who had been writing a feature on the history of Notting Hill carnival and did the last ever interview with The King, assists. Like He Died, the clues are all left on tape recordings The King has left in strategic places for his son to find. Those tapes tell a whole alternate history of London, of what happened to those regal Victorian Negroes in the years since Harryboy moved out of the East End improper.

We find out why The King did not want to return to Hoxton. After a day at the Notting Hall carnival in 1984, father and son got stranded on the wrong side of Commercial Road.

…they reached the intersection where Shoreditch High Street becomes Kingsland Road. Suddenly the pressure of the King’s hand pulled LT back. Made him stop. As if the King was stopping them both from crossing into a minefield… It was some years later that LT realised that crossing that street meant they were going to be entering what locals called The Hate Estate. The south-west of Hackney that ran from Hoxton to Haggerston and threaded through Brick Lane and Bethnal Green was the homeland of the National Front… They moved quickly, walking swiftly past a GEORGE DAVIS IS INNOCENT* slogan painted in white on the wall. They kept moving. For one minute. Three minutes. Five minutes later they left the darkness of the bridge begind them and reached the open road again. They hit the bend where Falkirk Street touches the main road on its left. That was when they heard the voices. Male, boisterious, singing, with the crude aroma of alcohol in the main medlody. He could not make out the words of their song, but the acoustics of the Hate estate told them they were coming from Haggerston, across the road. — DSM Killer Tune (2007)

*After a much-publicised campaign, including the disruption of a Test Match at Headingly in 1975 and the daubing of slogans across railway and road bridges, East End armed robber George Davies was released early from a disputed prison sentence for a 1974 raid on the London Electricity Board by Home Sec Roy Jenkins in May 1976. His conviction was deemed unsafe. Two years later he was back inside again for a raid on the Bank of Cyprus in 1977. Celebrities to take up his cause included Roger Daltry and Sham 69 – quality.

DOCKLANDS
There was a big demonstration outside the new premises of the Sunday Illustrated in Docklands. Mick [Billy Porter’s stolen identity] went along with them. It was quite close to where he worked. Peter joined a group of youg men who covered their faces and busied themselves hurling missiles at the police lines. Police in riot gear retaliated, but the stone-throwers were behind the main ranks of the protesters and were able to get away. They’re just bloody hoolians, really, Mick thought. And they’d sing that song again. The Billy Porter song. It sent a shiver down his spine – JA, He Kills Coppers (2001, 1985 section)

STOKE NEWINGTON
Up the steps to the front door and in. Soul music coming up from the basement. Go downstairs. Chicka, chicka, chicka.
‘Where’s the party?’ I say. ‘Jack’s here. Where’s all the booze? Where are all the birds?’

Go into the basement room. No birds. No booze. Just a couple of boys dancing together. Fat Ron sitting on a sofa watching them. Leering. Toad-like eyes blink over me. Reg is behind me. Pulls out a gun. Cold metal against my head.

You’ve got it coming to you, Jack the Hat. Sorry.

‘Do him!’ Ron hisses. – JA, The Long Firm (1999)

THE PROPER EAST END ACCORDING TO HARRYBOY

‘THE CLUB’ ALDGATE
Leaning up against the counter of Blooms was this character I knew from the tracks, and he said he was going over to the Club. Like a schmock I went with him. This club is off an alley in Aldgate. Not a speiler but a right dive. The worst gang in London used to hang out there til they moved up West. The police leave it open because if they want a word with some East End villian, it’s odds on they’ll find him there. – Alexander Baron, The Lowlife (1963)

CABLE STREET
I walked down Cable Street – this once respectable street of working people that is now a garbage heap of lost, ferocious schwartzers and the wretchedest of whores – and I stopped at a gap in the decaying shops and I cried. In the rain I stood and cried. this bomb crater, patches of diseased weeds, black puddles, rusty bedsteads, sodden newspapers, old prams, smashed packing-cases and the turds of tramps – this was where my mother died. – Alexander Baron, The Lowlife (1963)

BETHNAL GREEN
…a week later and we were in the press huddle in front of St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green. A monster’s funeral, the churchyard teeming with old lags and young wannabes. A phalanx of bouncers, the cream of London’s doormen, formed a guard of dishnour around the lich-gate. A police helicopter buzzed overhead. The hearse arrived. A black-and-gold, glass-sided carriage, drawn by six black-plumed horses. Victoriana kitsch, just as he would have wanted. The Last Empire Hero. Wreaths and flowered tributes to the grand old psychopath: RON and THE COLONEL. One from Reggie, his womb-mate: THE OTHER HALF OF ME, like a floral expression of schizophrenia. – JA truecrime (2003)

JACK THE HAT’S REMEMBERED STREETS, ACCORDING TO IAIN SINCLAIR
“Know-nothings talk about the class system breaking down, old Etonian chancers sharing a half with dysfunctional psychopaths, blisters on their knuckles. Taffeta crooners talking horseflesh with bent peers. Gangsters trading rent boys with unfrocked cabinet ministers.”

And so Jack throws abuse and ashtrays at Dorothy Squires, knocks off a bookies and emerges with a biro in his cheek, sews up his own face, calls Ronald Kray a fairy in front of his assembled firm. As the author contests, he wills his own death, ends up watching himself coming out as he walks into Blonde Carole’s gaff, doomed to spend each night until eternity repeating his last night on earth through the myriad cracked mirrors of unreliable memory.

“What if, Jack thought, we was a future nightmare? What if the things we done couldn’t be shifted? Knocked out of the book. What if we was the aliens some stupid bastard saw? The old motor like a disk of red light? Still cruising for human meat, still active for service…”

Taken from No More Yoga of the Night Club (Fresh Blood Anthology, Mike Ripley and Maxim Jakubowski, The Do-Not Press,1997)

“It needs a James Ellroy to take hold of them, to shape a narrative from the brutal farce of their paranoid monologues.” (From the author’s introduction, which also invokes the mini-cabbing Derek Raymond ‘shunting old villans across the river.’)

London
By William Blake 1757–1827

I wander thro' each charter'd street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper's cry
Every black'ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier's sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot's curse
Blasts the new born Infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Ken Bruen, in A White Arrest (The Do-Not Press 1998) quotes Patrick Hamilton from 1941, casting his eye back to pre-War London in Hangover Square: “Those whom God deserted are given a room and a gas fire in Earl’s Court…”

The McDead(2000)

A mini-cab later and he arrived in Stockwell, where the pitbulls travelled in twos. Ludlow Road is near the tube station, a short mugging away. At that hour the streets were littered with
the undead
the lost
and the frozen.

The building was a warren of bedsits. No lock on the front door. A wino was spread in the hall, his head came up, wheezed: ‘Is it Tuesday?’
‘No.’
Roberts wondered if the guy even knew the year but hey… he was going to argue? He said, ‘It’s Thursday, OK?’
‘Ah, good. I play golf on Tuesdays.’
Of course.

The opening salvo of his White Trilogy is set deep in Bruen’s former South London haunts, a Lambeth/Southwalk triangle between Brixton, Oval and The Elephant, bordered by The Cricketer’s pub, in which his publisher Jim Driver used to book anarcho punk bands, transformed by Bruen into the villainous hub of his manor, Coldharbour Lane, where vigilante gangs plot against the dealers of Railton Road, and The Spirit of Athens Taverna off the Walworth Road, where up mezze and moonshine are served up by snitches, under the concrete councourse.

His protagonists are three: Chief Inspector Roberts and Detective Sergeant Brant are R&B - and WPC Falls

‘R&B they were called. If Chief Inspector Roberts was like the Rhythm, then Detective Sergeant Brant was the darkest Blues.’ WPC Falls is more taken with County and Western, probably because her love life resembles the lyrics of a tear-stained Dolly Parton classic. In A White Arrest, the trio are confronted with a serial killer called the Umpire who is picking off the England cricket team, and a vigillante group hanging dope dealers from Brixton lamp posts. Though the former slips completely through their net, it ends in carnage for the latter and R&B get the ‘white arrest’ that exonerates the rest of their sorry careers. 

‘Since Derek Raymond died, so did the characters’ – Taming the Alien (1999)

Iain Sinclair No More Yoga of the Night Club (Fresh Blood Anthology, Mike Ripley and Maxim Jakubowski, The Do-Not Press,1997)

“It needs a James Ellroy to take hold of them, to shape a narrative from the brutal farce of their paranoid monologues.” (From the author’s introduction, which also invokes the mini-cabbing Derek Raymond ‘shunting old villans across the river.’)

“Know-nothings talk about the class system breaking down, old Etonian chancers sharing a half with dysfunctional psychopaths, blisters on their knuckles. Taffeta crooners talking horseflesh with bent peers. Gangsters trading rent boys with unfrocked cabinet ministers.”

And so Jack throws abuse and ashtrays at Dorothy Squires, knocks off a bookies and emerges with a biro in his cheek, sews up his own face, calls Ronald Kray a fairy in front of his assembled firm. As the author contests, he wills his own death, ends up watching himself coming out as he walks into Blonde Carole’s gaff, doomed to spend each night until eternity repeating his last night on earth through the myriad cracked mirrors of unreliable memory.

“What if, Jack thought, we was a future nightmare? What if the things we done couldn’t be shifted? Knocked out of the book. What if we was the aliens some stupid bastard saw? The old motor like a disk of red light? Still cruising for human meat, still active for service…”

© Cathi Unsworth 2012