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The Long Firm (1999)

by Jake Arnott

Series: Long Firm trilogy (1)

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4471243,054 (3.67)24
London. The 1960s. The capital is swinging, but underneath the boomtown there's a dark underbelly. Meet Harry Starks: club owner, racketeer, porn king, sociology graduate and keen Judy Garland fan. Harry's business is fronting violence with rough charm and cheap glamour; putting the frighteners on, performing menace while trying to desperately trying to jump the counter into legitimacy. Five characters tell five tales that combine in an extraordinary narrative that is both an explosively paced thriller and brilliantly imagined sociological and topographical portrait of sixties London.… (more)
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» See also 24 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
A tough, efficient, well written crime novel set in London during the 60's. Harry Starks is a contemporary of The Krays and runs his own firm with a rod of iron. Arnott paints a complex character, plagued by black moods yet matter-of-fact about his homosexuality. The prose is economical and keeps the story moving along at a good pace.

The rise and fall of Starks is told in five episodes, from the point of view of five different people who encounter Harry, either as friend, lover, employee or all three. Arnott brings to life the seedier side of 'Swinging London' and Starks's calculated brutality is described simply as his way of being in control. We are invited to make our own moral judgements.

A good read. ( )
  David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
A brilliant book, ostensibly a portrait of the gangster/businessman Harry Stark, moving from sixties London to eighties Costa del Crime. His story is told from the viewpoints of five different associates through the years, each voice is convincing and different, and yet Harry Stark remains a blank and unknown character you almost but not quite recognise. Of course, my copy has Mark Strong on it from the tv adaptation (which I haven't seen), so that colours my perception of Harry. Brooding, and mean when necessary. ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
"The Long Firm" is an excellent book; I was expecting "good", but not this good. 4.5 stars at least. It's about a London gangster of the 50's and 60's, during the time of the Krays, strip clubs, porn publications, protection rackets. A bit of drugs, LSD is new on the scene. The book is sprinkled with some 60's stuff - LBJ is elected, Judy Garland is a drunk and at the end of her career, Johnny Ray can no longer pull a crowd. The protagonist, of sorts, is Harry Starks. Harry is admittedly "queer, but not gay". He is a pro at getting his hooks into people, and now they owe him favors, even an MP. But one of the really key features of the book is its structure. Told in 5 "chapters", each a short story of sorts, and each narrated from the POV of a different Harry associate. In the first episode we learn what a long firm is, i.e., a short-lived business where inventory doesn't get paid for, then there's a fire sale, then the owners are gone without a trace. Other segments key on a bad investment in Nigeria,a real life creep, Jack the Hat, ultimately rubbed out by a competing gang, the Kray twins, Harry goes to jail, and the final and perhaps most entertaining segment.....let's just say Harry gets out of jail. My only disappointment is that this book seems to be Arnott's best to date, and I don't know if there is another book of his I'll read next. But "The Long Firm" is highly recommended. ( )
  maneekuhi | Nov 19, 2011 |
Last year I caught, and enjoyed, the BBC adaptation of The Long Firm with Mark Strong as Harry Starks, so was chuffed to find this on the library shelves, just begging for a new reader. And it was a great read, filled with (gay) sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. Or at least Judy Garland.

The Long Firm is set in the seedy underbelly of London in the swinging 60s. It's not a crime novel per se - there is a murder at some stage, but it's really rather secondary to the creation of the character of Harry Starks, a homosexual (*not* gay, he gets peeved if you call him gay, and you really don't want to make him angry) crime boss. I have never cheered on a baddie quite so thoroughly. And he's really not a nice man (vicious, brutal, but loved his Mum), but he was just so fascinating and well written.

We see Harry through various viewpoints - one of his rent boys; a sleazy M.P; a down-on-her-luck actress; and, finally and most amusingly, a young enthusiastic sociology academic who brings education to the prisons, but (of course) gets more education from Harry than he gives.

Great character, great book, great read. ( )
1 vote wookiebender | Sep 1, 2010 |
What a great book this was. Intelligently written without compromising on entertainment, it focuses on a London gangster from the viewpoints of five of his acquaintances. All in all it's an action-packed whirl through the seedier side of the swinging sixties, a world of rent-boys, strippers, bent coppers and seriously dangerous Maltesers. And every fifty pages or so someone gets tied to a chair.

My first thought on reading the title was to joke 'the long frirm what?', and judging by some of the subject matter I wasn't too far wide of the mark...

Nothing to do with the writing, but my copy had a superbly designed cover, and also featured a picture of the author looking exactly as though he's just spotted someone keying his car. Brilliant. ( )
  jayne_charles | Aug 25, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
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What's a jemmy compared with a share certificate? What's breaking into a bank compared with founding one? Bertolt Brecht, The Three Penny Opera
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'You know the song, don't you? "There's no business like show business". Harry gets the Ethel Merman intonation just right as he heats up the poker in the gas burner.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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London. The 1960s. The capital is swinging, but underneath the boomtown there's a dark underbelly. Meet Harry Starks: club owner, racketeer, porn king, sociology graduate and keen Judy Garland fan. Harry's business is fronting violence with rough charm and cheap glamour; putting the frighteners on, performing menace while trying to desperately trying to jump the counter into legitimacy. Five characters tell five tales that combine in an extraordinary narrative that is both an explosively paced thriller and brilliantly imagined sociological and topographical portrait of sixties London.

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