Cover image for The long firm
The long firm
Arnott, Jake.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Soho Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
343 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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Harry Starks' barbarity and elan stand out, even among the firms (or mobs) of London's underworld in the sixties where he is a major hoodlum and gay impresario.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In the opening paragraphs of this distinctive crime novel, the narrator is tied to a chair, about to be burned with a white-hot poker, while his tormentor recalls lyrics from an Ethel Merman song. With such a beginning, it's startling to find yourself feeling compassion for the tormentor. But Harry Starks is a complex and compelling character. Set in London in the swinging sixties, Harry's story is told by a diverse group of associates: one of his kept young men; a washed-up movie actress; an insolvent member of the House of Lords who shares Harry's taste for young men; another hood; and a hippie sociologist who teaches Harry in prison. Each is used by Harry. Each is drawn to him out of need but also out of fascination. Each learns to fear him. And each is a well-drawn character with a unique voice who offers not just insights into Harry but disparate glimpses of a fascinating city in a fascinating decade. Thomas Gaughan

Publisher's Weekly Review

British actor Arnott debuts with an extraordinarily rich thriller, a character study based on gangster life in 1960s London. Raw and often disturbingly detailed, the story is a piercing examination of the life of Harry Starks, an unforgettable villain who controls the rackets in the West End through menace, brutality and his own particular brand of tough love. Each of the book's five sections explores a different character's often harrowing episodes with Starks. Terry, a club-hopping pretty boy, is kept as a lover, slave and assistant by Starks, but when Terry gets uppity, Starks strikes. Teddy Thursby is a drunken, financially ruined member of the House of Commons whose homosexuality becomes a chip in one of Starks's high-stakes blackmail schemes. Jack the Hat is a pill-popping thug used by Starks for the dirtiest of jobs, while another employee, fading starlet Ruby Ryder, is kept in charge of Starks's pornography ring. Lenny, a university sociologist who befriends Starks, winds up in a gangster shootout, as murderously hot-blooded as his kingpin pal. Readers familiar with the saga of the Kray brothers will recognize the milieu. Some brief scenes of torture and wanton violence require a strong stomach, and yet there are many tender moments that show Starks's humaneness and vulnerability. A leader loyal to his friends and a softie for a pretty face, he's nonetheless an iron-willed disciplinarian when he's been betrayed. He's also a man of considerable intellectual depth who can discuss complex philosophy with clarity and simplicity. Starks's many associates are as original and fully developed as he is. They all populate a story of remarkable originality that stretches far beyond the conventional crime drama in both style and substance. Agent, Gelfman-Schneider. 25,000 first printing. (Sept.) FYI: The Long Firm will be a five-part BBC miniseries. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Arnott's first novel offers a peek into the louche world of London's Soho in the Swinging Sixties. Harry Starks (as in "stark raving mad") is a homosexual club owner and small-time gangster. His attempts to live up to his tabloid billing as the Torture Gang Boss are recounted by five distinct voices: a rent boy, an "actress" who works the Soho clubs, a fellow gangster, a Lord (the loos of Soho are notably democratic), and an Open University professor of criminology led by Starks into a life outside the law. Through it all, Starks remains a shadowy figure who never quite gels as a character. Arnott's good ear for dialog and keen sense of period detail (everyone from Evelyn Waugh in his sad latter days to crooner Johnny Ray appear) is not enough to disguise the fact that this novel is longer than it is solid. However, if the BBC miniseries scheduled for 2000 is well cast (Michael Caine seems the ideal Harry), there may be some interest down the road. For larger public libraries.ÄBob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.