THE LONG FIRM by Jake Arnott


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British writer Arnott’s ingeniously constructed first novel, set in the criminal world of London’s West End and reminiscent of such recent films as The Long Good Friday and The Krays, is in fact already being made into a five-part BBC-TV miniseries. Ruthless mobster Harry Starks (“The Torture Gang Boss”) is shown to us through the eyes of five “associates” who cross his path at various points throughout the “60s, a decade when Harry’s power is challenged only by the malevolent (real-life) Kray twins (briefly flickering offstage presences in a gaudy narrative that also notes appearances by Judy Garland, Johnnie Ray, and Evelyn Waugh, among other celebs). The first narrator is Terry, a rootless boy-toy who earns (gay) Harry’s favor, until his unwitting participation in a scam gone wrong brings Terry face-to-face with “The White-Hot Poker.” Subsequent tales are told by Lord “Teddy” Thursby, a profligate MP Harry almost casually pockets; “freelance” drug peddler “Jack the Hat,” an unfortunate crony in Harry’s scheme to corner the pop music and pornography markets; Ruby Ryder, “a tarty actress with a shady past,” who’s moving right on up the ladder—until she takes Harry’s new boyfriend to bed; and ingenuous “hippie” Lenny, the “Open University” tutor who bonds with Harry during the latter’s imprisonment, and is drawn inexorably into his crafty pupil’s violent orbit, just as the story veers toward its bitterly ironic end. Harry—whom we see only as these others see him—is a very considerable creation: a romantic who loves show business and its people (he owns a nightclub, the Stardust) as well as beautiful young men, and also a remorseless sadist “famous . . . [for his] black moods and crazy outbursts.” Arnott keeps us guessing how he’ll continue topping himself, in an extravagantly energized narrative leavened by occasional outcroppings of grim humor (a carefully planned “hit,” for example, fizzles when its intended victim simply isn’t home). A terrific debut. And don’t miss the miniseries.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-56947-169-X
Page count: 345pp
Publisher: Soho
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2000


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