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A wry view of life for the world-weary

Book Corner – September 2017 (2)

Crime and Punishment – G F Newman

At a certain time during the day earlier this year I would take a short drive in my car and on the cat’s whiskers, tuned to Radio 4 (natch), was a drama called The Corrupted. My journey was so short I only caught about five minutes at a time but it piqued my interest. I was able to track the source material down, a two-volume thriller called Crime and Punishment by the creator of the TV series, Law and Order, G F Newman. It was published in 2009.

If I was expecting a modern take on Dostoevsky’s tortuous musings on the moral dilemma that committing a murder causes, then I was in for a disappointment. This is a fast and furious tale of crime, violence, sex and corruption – not my normal fare at all. The story starts in post war London in 1951 and the brutal murder of her old man by Cath. This traumatises the son, Brian Oldman, who witnesses the killing and sets him on a path of crime and violence in cahoots with his draft dodging uncle and boxer, Jack Braden. The first book, which is the better of the two, is a litany of beatings, mindless violence and the occasional killing as Brian and his even more psychopathic uncle battle for supremacy of their manor against the likes of the Krays and Richardsons.

Oh yes, we are in the world of faction and pretty much every other page has a reference to a real life person or character. At times it seems as if Newman is on automatic pilot – oh, I’ve written 500 words and haven’t mentioned a real person so I better throw one in now. So we find the likes of Churchill, Tom Driberg, Maggie Thatcher, Emil Savundra, Jack Slipper of the Yard and Ronnie Biggs peppering the pages. That the cast list has so many people from London’s rather recent dodgy past makes you wonder whether Oldman and Braden are pseudonyms for real gangsters but I think it is just a rather unsubtle attempt to give colour and context to the tale.

The police, or at least most of them, are in the pay of the crims and they generally have some hold over the judges, so the journey to retribution is long, winding and uncertain. Brian eventually gets his just desserts but there are so many loose ends and incomplete story lines that it all becomes a bit of an unsatisfactory mess. It is as though Newman has painted too extensive a picture and struggles to control his material. In the end, he jettisons all of the sub plots to bring the tale of Brian Oldman to a conclusion. Even so, the story is too long and could have benefitted from a gangster’s razor being put through it.

This is not my cup of tea but it served as an undemanding read on a sun lounger on a beautiful beach whilst sipping a long cool drink. Newman’s style is direct, breathless and he can tell a story. But the plot is often too implausible and too full of holes to lift the book from anything other than what it is – a good, low brow holiday read.

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