The Wrong Arm of the Law is a 1963 British comedy film directed by Cliff Owen and starring Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins, Lionel Jeffries, John Le Mesurier and Bill Kerr. It was partly written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson
Too Many Crooks is a 1959 British comedy film directed by Mario Zampi. The plot concerns a bunch of inept crooks who kidnap the wife of a shady businessman, only for him to decide he doesn’t want her back. It stars George Cole, Sidney James and Bernard Bresslaw as members of the gang, alongside Brenda De Banzie as the victim and Terry-Thomas as her husband.
The morning after Sarah killed her father, the air tasted like lead and the sky was gun metal grey. She stared out of the window of her East London flat, barely focusing on the rows of concrete blocks being smudged by the Autumn rain.
The ensuing days of gloom collided with weeks and the weeks crashed into months.
And then it was Spring.
Sarah put on her make-up, rubbed talcum powder on her thighs and pulled on her XL pink shell suit before heading off to cash her mother’s pension at the post office. As per usual, she slammed the door of the flat behind her and, as loud as possible, shouted:
‘Won’t be long, mum!’
Then, she took a deep breath and headed down the emergency staircase.
Sarah had always been blessed – or maybe cursed – with an over ripe imagination and, as she rushed down the stairs, she imagined all sorts of spectres, smack-heads and psychos lurking in the stairwell’s darkened nooks and crannies. Still, it was preferable to using the rickety lift which broke down more often than not.
Sweating and wheezing, she reached the bottom floor and realised that she’d left her medication– her security blanket – at home. Not feeling able to climb the stairs to the twelfth floor, she reluctantly stepped into the lift. Just as the doors rattled to a close, The Friend Catcher pushed his way in.
Sarah was finding it almost impossible to tear her eyes away from the pulsating boil on the side of The Friend Catcher’s neck since, despite its size and repulsive condition, it was a far preferable sight to the one dangling like a gigantic dewdrop from the end of the old man’s crooked nose.
Given the choice, of course, she would more than happily have looked at something more edifying but, unfortunately for her, there wasn’t much else to gaze upon in the piss smelling, graffiti stained, syringe strewn lift where she and The Friend Catcher had found themselves trapped between floors.
The Friend Catcher didn’t seem perturbed at all . He just sighed and scrutinised the lewd and lurid graffiti that littered the wall.
The Friend Catcher had moved in to a flat on the same floor as Sarah’s parents in the 1980’s, at the time when all sorts of waifs and strays and odds and ends of society were being scattered across the capital as part of Mrs Thatcher’s misbegotten Care In The Community campaign.
The strange looking new neighbour – with his stoop, hawked nose, black fedora and greatcoat, looking like a long black shadow – quickly fed the imagination of the local children -Sarah in particular – a situation that was heightened by the fact that, in archetypal serial killer fashion, the man kept himself to himself.
According to some of the kids he was a vampire – although the fact that he was regularly seen in daylight pretty much scuppered that idea – while others speculated that he was, in fact, Jack The Ripper, although even if his advanced age wasn’t quite advanced enough to support that theory.
However, it was his resemblance to a scary character in the film ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ that earned him the nickname The Friend Catcher which, like most nicknames, stuck for years to come.
Eventually, he spoke.
‘Like flies in a web,’ he said, in what sounded like an Eastern European accent.
‘What?’ said, Sarah whose legs were starting to ache.
‘We’re trapped like flies in a spiderweb,’ said The Friend Catcher as he rooted in one of his Iceland shopping bags.
Sarah nodded. She was starting to sweat now and really wished she had the diazepam with her. She tried the deep breathing that the psychiatric nurse at the Maudsley Hospital had taught her.
‘Here,’ said The Friend Catcher and he held out a bottle of some clear liquid with a label that Sarah didn’t recognise.
Sarah quickly remembered the stories that had circulated of how he was actually a psychotic taxidermist who would snatch children from the street, drag them back to his flat and stuff them. She had visions of being drugged, filled with formaldehyde and being stuffed.
‘Relax,’ said the old man. ‘Polish vodka.’
Sarah looked at the label and almost laughed with relief. She twisted off the cap and took a long gulp.
‘Your father used to drink it in the The Aversham Arms. I used to see your father in that pub a lot. Before his accident.’
Sarah had a flashback to the night that Walter Hill had come home drunk from The Aversham Arms and, as usual, had started an argument. An argument that had once again erupted into violence. Walter was an oak of a man who had no problems overpowering his sick, stumpy wife and indeed this would have been the case had Sarah not been there. She ran at her father, sobbing, and, with all of her weight, she slammed him against the wall. Falling on top of him she held him down until he stopped breathing. The police accepted that he’d had a heart attack while drunk and left her to take care of her mother.
‘Yes, I was a pilot in the 303 Squadron. I flew in your Battle of Britain.’ said The Friend Catcher pointing to a fading photograph on the wall of his musty smelling flat.
‘Amazing,’ said Sarah who was admiring a picture of the then handsome and young Tadeusz Koc as he stood beside a Spitfire Mk.Vb with Misia, the squadrons mascot. She was more than a little tipsy. Her mother had always said that she could get drunk on the sniff of a barmaid’s apron but she was so relieved to get out of the lift that she couldn’t resist the offer of a sit down and a drink in Tadeusz’s flat.
‘My wife and I lived near Borough market, on the High Street, for almost forty years until your government decided to gentrify the area and sell it off to yuppies.’ Said Tadeusz.
‘When they sent us the official letter the ….’
‘Compulsory Purchase Order?’ said Sarah.
‘Exactly! Well, my wife soon became depressed. She died on the night before we were to move out.’ Tadeusz swayed a little.
Sarah could feel herself becoming tearful and small red dots started to appear before her eyes and her head ached.
‘But ….that is the past and we have to be strong, eh? We Poles are strong people. And you are a strong woman taking care of your mother for so long.’
And then Sarah started to sob.
The words tumbled out of Sarah’s mouth like a gang of drunks staggering out of a pub at closing time; disorderly and unruly. She told of how her mother’s cancer had spread and she had become more and more ill. Again and again she had begged for Sarah to stop the pain and so, one cold dawn, as she saw the red splashes spreading in front of her eyes and the dull headache become a sharper pain in her forehead, she smothered her mother to death between her breast.
Tadeusz sighed and nodded.
‘An unhappy life is a vice with a powerful grip,’ he said.’ I am alone now. And each day I feel more and more pain .. emptiness. Just…just waiting for … release ‘
And then, breathing heavily, Sarah saw the red splashes spreading like a Rorschach test and she felt the sharp pain in her forehead, as if a stiletto heel had been slammed between her eyes and so she rose to her feet and hugged The Friend Catcher with all her strength. She hugged him until his life faded away, just like hot breath on a cold windowpane.
At the start of the Swinging Sixties, a serial killer nicknamed Jack The Stripper stalked te streets of West London. In Bad Penny Blues, Cathi Unsworth smartly weaves together fact and fiction as she tells the stories of Stella – a young fashion- designer who is haunted by visons of the dead women – and PC Peter Bradley, a policeman who is investigation the killings.
First published in 2010 by Serpents Tail, Bad Penny Blues as been republished by Strange Attractor Press and now includes an introduction from no less than Greil Marcus as well as The Ghosts Of Ladbroke Grove, a revealing afterword from Cathi Unsworth.
Bad Penny Blues remains a cracking yarn with a great sense of time and place and is, of course, highly recommended.
My comic crime capers Guns of Brixton and Cold London Blues were published by Caffeine Nights Publishing in 2014 and 2016 respectively. And they received a hell of a lot of positive feedback, particularly Guns Of Brixton. However, due to Caffeine Nights decision to reduce their booklist, they have now reverted the rights of the books to me and ceased publication of the titles.
I’m sure both books will be back out and about in some shape or form at a later dater. So watch this space!
In the meantime, the eBook versions of the books are no longer available but there are some paperbacks knocking about.
So if you fancy nabbing one, maybe pop over to Fantastic Fiction:
Small town boy Joe Hunter heads off to London to stay with his old friend Chris, a rising star in the fashion industry. When Chris is killed, Joe, along with a former police detective, decides to investigate the murder. T S Hunter’s Tainted Love is set in Soho in the mid-1980s and has a great sense of time and place. Tainted Love is a whip crack of a read and a great start to T S Hunter‘s acclaimed Soho Noir series.
Lisa is a young professional woman with a dark past. When she moves into the spare room of a beautiful old house in a posh part of London, she quickly finds out that the house also has its secrets, and that her odd new landlords are not what they seem. Dreda Say Mitchell’s Spare Room is a cracking, fast-paced read that cleverly drags gothic melodrama into the 21st century. This is a breathless, engrossing, urban thriller with a sharp strain of dark humour – Barbara Kendall! – and is a hell of a lot of fun.
Ted Lewis is probably best known for his 1970 novel Jack’s Return Home and/or its subsequent film versions – Get Carter (1971) starring Michael Caine, Hit Man starring Bernie Casey (1972), and Get Carter (2000) starring Sylvester Stallone.
GBH was Lewis’ final novel – published in 1980- and it’s pretty damned fantastic. The book’s title is an abbreviation of ‘grievous bodily harm’, a term used in English criminal law to describe a particularly violent form of physical assault. GBH is the story of the decline of London gangster and pornographer George Fowler, and it is cleverly told in two alternating time periods. The earlier period is set in London and is titled The Smoke. The later period is set in an off-season seaside down and is titled The Sea.
GBH has the lot – great characters, sharp dialogue, richly descriptive prose, a cold clammy atmosphere, a powerful sense of time and place, and a cruel, dark humour. It really is a cracking read and is well-deserved of its classic status.
River Cartwright’s short career in the Intelligence Service is almost down the Swanee due to a major screw up on his part. Luckily for him, his grandfather is a bit of a big shot in the Service so he is instead banished to the purgatory of Slough House – home to the Service’s flotsam and jetsam – to work under the bleary and beady eye of the legendary Jackson Lamb.
When a teenager is kidnapped and held hostage, however, things soon go pear shaped and Lamb’s team of misfits and oddball’s is dragged into action, like it or not.
Mick Herron’s Slow Horses is a joy. It’s brilliantly written with rich prose and a sharply drawn cast of characters. The plotting is insidiously clever, the dialogue is smart and funny, and there is a wonderful sense of time and place. Slow Horses ticked all the boxes for me and then some. Bloody marvellous.
Published in 2005, Cathi Unsworth’s The Not Knowing was her first novel. It is set in London in the early ’90s and what a great slice of London life it is. Diane Kemp is a journalist working for the trendy Lux magazine. When an uber-hip British film director goes missing she is dragged into the investigation. Meanwhile, a killer stalks the city.
The Not Knowing is a cracking murder mystery with a great sense of time and place and is a hell of a read.
For those of you that enjoyed my book LAST YEAR’S MAN, the protagonist Tommy Bennett is back. The Tommy Bennett yarn ‘Baby’s Got A Gun‘ – title filched from The Only Ones – is included in the anthology A TIME FOR VIOLENCE: STORIES WITH AN EDGE.
The anthology is published by CLOSE TO THE BONE and is edited by Andy Rausch and Chris Roy.
It includes stories from Richard Chizmar, Joe R. Lansdale, Max Allen Collins, John A Russo and many more!
You can grab A TIME FOR VIOLENCE from Amazon.com and loads of other joints, in paperback and as an eBook.
In the 1978 TV series OUT, poker-faced Tom Bell plays Frank Ross, a gangster who is sent to prison for robbery after someone grasses him up. Eight years later, Ross leaves the slammer and is confronted with a London that has changed and people that have changed.
Instead of stitching back together his relationships, however, Frank is focused on tracking down whoever stitched him up. OUT – written by the late Trevor Preston – is great, gritty stuff and it’s a real period piece too- no mobile phones!
There are some great performances, particularly from Bell and Brian Cox as the psychopathic gangster McGrath, but there are loads of top turns from the likes of John Junkin, Victoria Fairbrother, and Peter Blake.
There’s also a very cool credit sequence with a cracking George Fenton theme tune.
And you can watch OUT for nowt on You Tube, if you’re that way inclined.