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Issue 106 - Different Worlds

Whisky Magazine Issue 106
September 2012


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Different Worlds

Jefferson Chase looks at a novel set in 1960s London

One interesting thing about the gangster or mafia genre is that while the basic constellation remains constant, every story highlights particular settings. Vito Corleone and Tony Soprano may be cousins, but they clearly inhabit two different worlds.

The world of Jake Arnott's 1999 gangster epos The Long Firm is 1960s London, and the protagonist Harry Starks is the epitome of an age that produced glamorous thugs like the Kray Brothers:

‘Faces', Harry referred to them as. And as it turned out that was what Harry was. A face. Mad Harry I was slightly disconcerted to learn…Every so often a flashbulb would go whoosh and the main group would go into a fixed expression for a second.
Showbiz eyes and teeth.
Underworld jaws and suits.

At this point, you probably think you've seen this film before, but you haven't.

The first-person narrator here is a rent boy – Harry Starks is a gay mafia boss.

That's not the only original twist Arnott has given his story The Long Firm consists of five lengthy chapters focusing on Harry but narrated from wildly divergent perspectives.

The kaleidoscope approach combined with Harry's sexual orientation lets us see how much posturing must come with being a tough guy.

For instance, here's how the rent boy imagines Harry feeling in a gay bar:

All the looks, the staring. In places he was more used to, spielers, drinking clubs, heavy boozers like the Blind Beggar or the Grave Maurice that level of eyeballing would have seemed an affront, a prelu...

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