I’ve now read books two and three in the Long Firm trilogy and can confirm that they are more of the same, so if you enjoyed “The Long Firm”, then you will most probably enjoy “He Kills Coppers” and “truecrime”, though probably not as much.
Having carped, slightly, at the “guest appearances” of famous sixties and seventies personalities in the first book, I found I missed the name dropping element in the second book (“He Kills Coppers”), or maybe I just missed the presence of Harry Starks (the charismatic gangster from the first book). Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable piece, with once again carefully researched examples of popular youth culture used to give a sense of time.
This story revolves around an ex-soldier (Billy Porter) who turns to crime, and ends up in a tuppenny ha’penny semi-incompetent gang of the sort one normally only finds in black & white British movies of the fifties or modern day “World’s Dumbest Criminals” shows. However, seeing as the character is based on real-life cop killer, Harry Roberts, one must assume that these gangs do indeed exist. Porter’s gang is on its way to perform an armed robbery when the car they are in is pulled over for a routine inspection. Porter is disinclined to allow the police detective to examine what he has in his bag and opts to blow the copper's face off instead, at which point Porter's troubles start. Well, continue, really, as life had never been that simple for him after he had been released from the disciplined environment of the army, where it was deemed OK to kill people, provided they were, in the words of Phil the Greek, slitty eyed.
As in the first book, and indeed the third, the story features more than one central character, each of which moves the narrative along, sometimes showing the same events from a different perspective. So, we have an ambitious police detective who inevitably becomes a little bit corrupt as he makes his way up the career ladder. In the early stages of the book he looks to another detective (his best friend) to keep him on the straight and narrow but ultimately he sells out this best friend (his fellow detective) and before he gets a chance to make amends, said detective/best friend is murdered by Billy Porter.
The third central character is a gay necrophiliac hack journalist, whose stock in trade is “True Crime” magazines. Like every hack journalist, he believes he has a great book in him, but the truth is that his forte really is sleazy short stories about grisly villains. Nevertheless, Billy Porter, the cop-killer, is his specialist subject, so he inevitably gets involved in the hunt for Porter, who remains free for a couple of decades.
Cultural touchstones in the second novel are new age hippies, gypsies, freemasons, the evolution of the police force as Thatcher’s personal army, and football hooligans. Don’t bother reading history books about the era, read this book instead. You’ll find the “twist” at the end blindingly obvious, but it does not detract from the value of the book.
The third book finds us back in the world of showbiz, with much of the story told through the eyes of an actress, and her involvement with some upper class film-makers who have become enamoured with the working class chic appeal of East End gangsters. One of the characters might as well be called “Ritchie Guy” for all the lack of subtlety with which Madonna’s husband is parodied.
Harry Starks returns, though largely in the form of an off-screen bogeyman whom the young actress is out to get. Why? Because she believes that Harry Starks killed her father (as it happens, he didn’t – he was fitted up) and then, to make matters worse, he bought off her mother, who used the money to put her daughter through stage school. The mother is unaware that Harry Starks is innocent, so obviously believes she is taking blood-money from Starks, and this puts a strain – to say the least – on her relationship with her daughter when the daughter finally susses out the arrangement.
As with the other books, there are other central characters too. The sleazy journalist from book two is reprised, and he is still barely controlling his urges to take young men home for sex and kill them. The third main character, Geezer Gaz, is almost a carbon copy of Jack the Hat from the first book, as he spirals down in a drug-induced maelstrom of violence. By this stage of the trilogy, you may find Arnott’s style a bit formulaic, but you can always play spot the reference. In this book, Essex boys cop it, New Labour gets a passing swipe, rave culture is explored in reasonable depth and the whole “Lock, Stock” scene gets parodied in a heavy-handed fashion.
In summary, I would recommend that you try the first book in the series, “The Long Firm” and then, if you like it, give the others a go. You can buy all three in a single omnibus that works out cheaper than buying all three books individually, but it’s doubtful you’d want to buy all three, unless you are a real fan of British crime and youth culture.