Blasts from the Past: The Long Firm by Jake Arnott (1999)

Cover imageThis is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy into as many hands as I could.

Jake Arnott was featured in a documentary on the trials and tribulations of getting your first novel published back in 1999. The Long Firm later became a bestseller, dramatized by the BBC several years later. I’ve often wondered how the other writers felt about this personable, camera-friendly literary star in the making whose success was contrasted with their increasingly desperate efforts as they waded their way through their well-thumbed copies of The Writers and Artists’ Yearbook looking for an agent. Arnott’s debut is the first of three novels set in the gangster world of the ’60s East End. Sadly, the other two didn’t quite match its brilliance although I’m pleased to say that his new novel, The Fatal Tree, is every bit as good.

Narrated by five very different characters, The Long Firm follows the career of Harry Starks, a gangland boss with a weakness for stardom and a yearning for respectability. Each narrator tells the story of their dealings with Harry: Terry is Harry’s pretty suburban kept boy; Teddy is the corrupt peer who finds himself out of his league; Jack the Hat is a freelancer who flits dangerously between Harry and the Kray twins; Ruby is a fading Rank starlet and Lenny is a criminologist whose relationship with Harry leads him into the dark realities of the criminal underworld. Set in mid-60s London amidst enormous social change and written with a wit as sharp as the cut of a gangster’s suit, Arnott’s novel explores the dark underbelly of a period often recalled as vibrant and exciting, expertly blending fact and fiction in a vivid evocation of the times. Not only can Arnott write but my contemporary historian partner assures me that the period detail is spot-on – high praise indeed.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?

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18 thoughts on “Blasts from the Past: The Long Firm by Jake Arnott (1999)”

  1. I love this book. It’s brilliant and as you say the period detail is great. They turned it into a pretty good TV series a while ago. I’ve read all his books other than the most recent which I must get round to.

    1. It was a great adaptation, wasn’t it? Perhaps I’ll try and track it down on DVD. You’ve a treat in store with the Fatal Tree – a match for The Long Firm for me.

  2. It’s nice to revisit old friends every now and again, especially something as well-regarded as this. I remember enjoying the TV series several years ago, but I don’t think I ever got around to reading the original book. Thanks for the reminder!

  3. This is one that passed me by, though given its theme that’s possibly not too surprising. Gangster stories are kind of up there with zombies and vampires on my ‘to avoid’ list, perhaps a little unfairly considering your high praise for this book. Lovely blog, Susan.

    1. I think if you enjoyed the TV series you’d enjoy the book. One of those rare occasions where the adaptation is true to the book. Posting this has prompted me to order the DVD.

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