“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Is London Books the next best thing to an independent bookshop?

They do say that people  tend to take a particular interest in the years just before they were born, harking back to, and even developing a false nostalgia for, a time that of course they never knew. Perhaps that accounts for my own fascination with the London pre-war scene, with writings that detail the lives of ordinary Londoners and 1930's crime fiction in particular. As kid growing up in East London I could not wait to go and explore the Soho that was "exposed" in the Sunday papers every week. The truth is that by the time I that was old enough it was almost all over. But the urge to wander the streets of the capital has never left me and to this day I can't look at a quite ordinary row of houses without wondering about the lives of the people who lived there in the 30's. There is a wealth of literature available, fiction and non-fiction, that details the lives of pre-war Londoners with the rise of fascism, the struggle to make a living and the ever present threat of a coming war - the writings of George Orwell and Norman Collin's London Belongs To Me spring to mind. But there is also a rich vein of less known London crime fiction that in it's own way offers a tantalising insight into a London that is lost forever. A lot of the books might have been lost forever as well had it not been for dedicated enthusiasts such as London Books who have republished a fantastic catalogue of classic London crime fiction. At the moment I'm into their edition of The Gilt Kid by James Curtis and it's a cracking read.
The central character, the Gilt Kid himself, is a petty criminal with Marxist leanings but with little patience for the tedium of so called "political work". As he points out to a Communist Party paper seller, " ..... instead of messing about with dopey meetings why don't you give the boys something? Start a riot. Lead a row in Bond Street and loot all the shops. Collect all the bums in London and take them into one of the  flash hotels and let them demand to be fed. You hear about hunger-marchers making rows and demanding grub. Where'd they go? To the Ritz, to Lyons' Corner House even? `No! The workhouse. That's just about your mark, kicking up a shine at the spike."
"Yes, but if we did all that the leaders of the party'd get pinched and the movement'd be all bust up. Anyhow that's not communism. It's just plain hooliganism."
"Call it what you like mate. It's getting something for the bloke on the floor and that's what you reckon to be out for."
Ring any bells? Anyway, check out  London Books and give yourself a treat.

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