In 1951 the Festival of Britain marks a new golden age of hope and prosperity for the country.
Things are certainly looking up for the criminal elite who run the East End.
For Jack, a draft-dodger with aspirations to be a champion boxer, there's easy money to be made for providing a bit of muscle.
Meanwhile his sister Kath must keep secret the fact that she killed their father to protect her son, Brian, from the abuse she experienced as a child.
Brian is so traumatised by witnessing this event that the complex union of violence and sexuality will shape his character for life.
As the years go by and disillusion sets in, successive Labour and Tory governments aren't able to stop the rot.
Younger, nastier criminals like the Kray twins and the Richardson brothers begin to carve out their own criminal empires and crush all resistance.
Brutalised and embittered by years of failure and imprisonment, Jack decides to make a stand.
The stage is set for one big war. Crime and Punishment is the first volume in a two-part epic, and follows the characters' lives up until the accession of Thatcher. The second volume will trace the dramatic changes in criminal society that reflected the wider social upheaval of the times, right up until the present day.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 704 pages
- Publisher: Quercus Publishing
- Publication Date: 01/10/2009
- Category: Crime & mystery
- ISBN: 9781849160124
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Review by Eyejaybee
This is a fascinating novel, tracing the story of a fictional family whose fortunes are tied up with the intricacies of gang warfare, organised crime and corruption across all tiers of London society through the 1950s and 1960. The principal characters - the Braden family - are all fictional but their lives are seamlessly intertwined with real people such as the Kray twins, the Richardson brothers, Ronnie Biggs and his fellow train robbers, Tom Driberg MP, Superintendent Slipper and Stephen Ward.I first became aware of this book after hearing the excellent dramatisation on BBC Radio Four of the second volume of the book while driving through the Scottish Highlands, and was eager to try to catch up on the earlier action. I was a little concerned that the book mioght prove to be a disappointment after the mastery of the radio presentation, but such fears were soon laid to rest. Newman has obvioulsy done extensive (perhaps even exhaustive) research and clearly knows his material in intricate detail. He uses this sparingly, though, and does not weigh don the reader with excessive historical references - the presence of real characters serves to lend a deep patina of verisimilitude.The story is often pretty grim. Indeed, the opening scene, set amid preparations for the celebrations of the Festival of Britain in 1951, is a flashback in the mind of young Brian Oldman to the sight of his mother, Catherine Oldman (nee Braden) battering his grandfather to death. The only other witness to this attack is Joey, Brian's father and Catherine's husband. The body is left hidden in the cluttered yard of a factory which, fortuitously, is hit that evening by a stray German bomb. We gradually learn that this murderous assault was prompted by Catherine having caught her seemingly preparing to abuse the unaware Brian. It is only much later on that we discover that he had abused Catherine at length during her only childhood and teenage years. The memory of this incident not surprisingly stays with Brian for the rest of his life.Catherine's younger brother is Jack Braden who is obsessed with boxing, and wants a shot at the World Light Heavyweight Championship. He really could have been a contender, and much of his early life is spent in vigorous training to follow this path. Jack does, however, also find himself on the fringes of a criminal subculture which increasingly lures him to become a 'player', and he is soon regularly involved in robberies for which his physical fitness and prowess as a fighter leave him particularly well suited. It is as this stage that he first crosses the Kray twins who are then just starting out on their eventual rise to dominate the east end of London.Before each episode of the radio version the announcers give a warning that the drama contains 'violence, prejudicial dialogue and attitude prevalent in the time in which the events depicted took place'. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted, though the language is never gratuitous.The plot twists and turns in a sinuous dance, peppered with references to the changing times as the London population emerged from the post-war austerity into the swinging sixties and beyond. As appetites for consumerism take increasing strong hold, so do the criminals' scope for advancement, cashing in on all aspects of lie.I understand that Newman intends to take the story right up to the 1980s, and I am eagerly awaiting subsequent instalments.