Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Corrupted by Simon Michael

Published by Urbane Publications on Paperback on 21st June, Corrupted is the fourth book in the Charles Holborne series

Having never known of the Charles Holborne series you fear that you may be late to the party, much like the swinging dance parties and afternoon teas that take place at the Ritz in 1964, the year in which the latest Simon Michael novel is set.

There is no fear of that though, Michael has been lucky enough to create a central protagonist in the same vein as Jack Reacher; a likeable everyman who is one step ahead of most people, but one who is not afraid to throw punches (literally) nor get his hands dirty in the eternal pursuit of justice and truth.

Charles Holborne (or Horowitz - to show his birth name, and the still relevant anti-Semitism taking place in London), is 39 a Barrister working in Chambers at the Temple and the Old Bailey, he presides over a variety of cases - yet he himself has a criminal past which will not let go of him. He is well liked by his peers, colleagues and his unwillingness to fall in line with the old boy network does ruffle feathers, he nevertheless gets results.

The book is set in a hot summer of 1964, a year where the Beatles are returning home from conquering America, Sonny Liston just lost to Cassius Clay and the beginnings of the sexual revolution are slowly fermenting around the swinging London scene.  We first encounter Charles at home with his partner Sally, having recently moved in to a new house in North London; even Charles moans about the commute to work.

Upon his desk though comes a case involving his old nemesis, the Krays twins; the legendary Ronnie and Reggie whose criminal underworld dealings were known and held a vice like grip over London's night life.  The Krays are at war with the Mafiosa, and this leads to a footsoldier Mo Drake being murdered at his home supposedly by the Italians in revenge; yet there is more to the case than meets the eye.

It had long been rumoured for some time that Reggie Kray was homosexual and he was played as such by Tom Hardy in Legend as such; and yet the narrative revolves around a scandalous sex party that takes place at one of Reggie's residencies in Walthamstow, where all manner of high profile dignatries and cabinet members including Lord Robert Boothby attended indulging in fornication and sexual conquests.  In the narrative, a runaway boy Teddy is taken in by Mo and attends the party leading to Mo's death later that same night.

Charles takes on the case to clear the boy whom has been arrested for Mo's murder; yet Charles also has problems at home with Sally (who sadly vacates the scene somewhat abruptly) as Charles will not relent on his dream of fighting in the boxing ring one last time before his fortieth birthday, following a successful amateur career.   Charles goes for long runs on Saturday mornings and sometime evenings, which allows the author to write fondly of London before overpopulation took hold.

Even the premise of placing historical figures such as the Kray twins and all the mythos and legend they carry with them does not restrict nor overawe the character development of Charles Holborne, our protagonist remains front and center and the heart and soul of the book; you never feel your allegiance being swayed by the celebrity gangsters who themselves are written with great clarity and care by Michael, not becoming these overbearing larger than life figures, merely important people doing their job like anyone else.

Author Simon Michael

That is the beauty of this book, for all the gripping thriller elements and the page-turning quality of the narrative that rips along as quickly as that of Child or Grisham; Michael has gone to great lengths to paint a vivid picture of London at that time, as if it was the centre of the world - the glamour of the Ritz, to the stuffy tradition of the Old Bailey.

There is a vibrancy in the writing from the back and forth dialogue from each colourful character Charles meets to the vigour of the scene-setting of nightclubs and bagel shops, you feel a part of the story - something that this reader has not felt for quite sometime.

And with the protagonist Charles, Michael has created an anti-hero who is very much of his time - a chameleon like individual who is changing with the times much like his own city and world is in flux itself in terms of the rise of sexual freedom, feminism with Charles embodying the new breed of outsider and non-public schoolboy combating prejudices daily in his professional career; something the author had to confront during his career as a barrister.

As mentioned, the books 420 pages rips along at quite a clip that you will would be wanting more and with there still six years left in the 1960s for Charles to indulge in, it promises for more yarns for Michael to tell.  This reader for one will be looking back at the three previous installments of the series and looks forward with relish to the rest.

Corrupted by Simon Michael is released by Urbane Publications on 21st June.

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