on 2 September 2007
I really have to take my hat off to Paul Willetts; he has meticulously researched a classic case of criminal investigation into a murder which shocked post-war London; three young tearaways botched an armed robbery at a jeweller's shop, ran off and were confronted by Alec D'Antiquis, a motor mechanic who was married with six children. He was callously shot dead and Mr. Willetts, using the original witness statements tendered to the Old Bailey, plus newspaper coverage and a number of other sources, has put together a fascinating tale.
It was this case, more than any other, which brought Detective Superintendent Bob Fabian (of the Yard) to the publics attention; as a result, Fabian wrote the first of three books, of which the first, Fabian of the Yard was a best-seller, launched the television series of the same name and inspired the classic film, The Blue Lamp.
It is difficult to know how Mr. Willetts could have probed any deeper to have made this exciting book any more authentic; I don't believe he could.
A superb book.
I came to "North Soho 999: A True Story of Gangs and Gun-Crime in 1940s London" having thoroughly enjoyed Paul Willetts’ other books: "Fear and Loathing in Fitzrovia" the biography of the English writer and dandy, Julian Maclaren-Ross; "Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond; Soho's Billionaire King of Burlesque”; and "Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms: The Spyhunter, the Fashion Designer & the Man From Moscow”. Indeed it was recently reading this last book that inspired me to pick up "North Soho 999: A True Story of Gangs and Gun-Crime in 1940s London" which had been on my shelf for a few years before finally reading it.
I am pleased to report it’s up to the same level of excellence as the other books by Paul Willetts. His customary meticulous research inform a detailed and well written account of the murder of Alec de Antiquis, a 'have-a-go hero’ who tried to obstruct a smash-and-grab gang who had just robbed a jewellers in London’s Charlotte Street on April 29 1947. This murder was symptomatic of a surge in gun crime in London after World War Two (something similar also happened after World War One).
As with the other books by Paul Willetts, where "North Soho 999: A True Story of Gangs and Gun-Crime in 1940s London” scores highly is in the novelistic writing style and eye for detail, both of which bring post-war London vividly to life. It’s a world of bomb sites, rationing, smoke-filled pubs, grasses, violence, prostitution, and teenage gun crime. In London 10,300 people between the ages of 14 and 20 were, by 1947, convicted members of criminal gangs. Trying to reassure a jittery public, the police were required to find and convict those responsible for violent crime, with varying degrees of success.
Detective Superintendent Bob Fabian of Scotland Yard, leads the team who work tirelessly to apprehend the gang responsible for the murder of Alec de Antiquis, and it is an impressive and dedicated round-the-clock effort that is finally rewarded by success.
This book also finds time to feature the roles played by the pioneering forensic pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the hangman Albert Pierrepoint, the journalist Duncan Webb, and many more.
In short, it is true crime writing at it’s very best, full of interesting and fascinating insights, and a compelling page turner.
on 23 June 2007
This book speeds along faster then the wireless cars used by the Met in their heyday. It grips from start to finish and you won't want to put it down until the last page. Fabian and his team work tirelessly to capture a gang of 1940's hoodlums, fresh from the doldrums of WW2 who now lead a life of crime, armed and dangerous, a worrying crime trend at the time.(sound familiar to today?) As you read in minute detail how the crime was committed, investigated and finally prosecuted, you might get bored, DON'T,this fine grain detail is as meticulous as the police interviews with the suspects and it helps sharpen the picture of long gone London in your head.In your minds eye the scenes are only in Black and White, like the photos used as support to the riveting text. You must remind yourself, this is a true account and not a work of fiction, not solved in two hours on TV by and Inspector and his side kick. Full credit to Willets, he writes like he was a copper himself, part of the Fabian team, double breasted de-mob suit, trilby, raincoat and obligatory fag hanging from his mouth. Great stuff, well done!.
Having read and very much enjoyed his book on Paul Raymond, I went back to read this earlier Paul Willetts book about a 1947 London murder case that was widely reported at the time.
A story of another time in every respect - the struggling post war London environment is recreated in great detail with insights into how the police and the underworld each operated then, as society faced higher levels of crime than had been seen for many years. The key story is of a bungled jewellery shop robbery in 1947 where a "have a go" passer by was shot and killed. That main story is interwoven with other contemporary stories including especially the lives of public hangman Albert Pierrepoint and the lead investigator "Fabian of the Yard", plus the role of crime reporters for newspapers as the main media people relied on for news, however outlandish its premise was.
Around the main event what marks this book out is the great detail on police procedure and how murder investigations were carried out at that time. Lacking the high tech forensics and IT and communications now seen, the police were reliant on a few key experts available to them (post-mortem pathologists and gun experts) and intensive use of manpower to carry out any investigation, given a very paper based records approach. The ability to throw men at the problem with the case taking twenty days till the key criminals were charged shows a very different approach taken to tackling crime currently.
While very heavy on procedural aspects in the early chapters, what one experiences as events progress to their climax is the sheer grind police work involved of following up on endless leads and the odd bit of luck plus bending of the procedural rules needed to be finally successful in completing such murder investigations. The actual case itself may have been long forgotten by now over 60 years later but the book's use of that event as a backdrop to explain those different times and the mood of society is recreated brilliantly.
on 8 May 2007
This is an absorbing and brilliantly-researched account of a notorious (but now forgotten) killing in shabby post-war London. Paul Willetts has drilled deep into newspaper archives, police records and cultural history to evoke the painstaking and dogged pursuit of the armed gang who execute an innocent bystander following a raid on a jewellers' near the Tottenham Court Road and are finally nailed by the legendary Bob Fabian - "Fabian of the Yard". In the course of the investigation we run into the executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who (incredibly enough) happens to be passing the scene of the shooting. In an absorbing digression Willetts links Pierrepoint to none other than film star Ingrid Bergman, a fine nugget of trivia.
The author has a keen sense of the period and a seemingly endless knowledge of police procedure of the time - yet this doesn't slow down the headlong pace of the investigation - red-eyed detectives go without sleep, fuelled by coffee and [...] and a determined sense of duty. There's no glamour at all, of course - but plenty of grit, hard-boiled characters and downbeat
settings. The twists and turns of Fabian's investigation have all the hallmarks of fiction (the case was later filmed as THE BLUE LAMP, marking the screen debut of Dirk Bogarde), and this factual account with authentic dialogue often reads like a film script.
More than just a painstaking reconstruction of a particular crime, the book is also an evocative snapshot of a lost city of bombsites, pawnbrokers, greasy spoons and smoke-filled pubs, coppers' narks, detectives in belted raincoats and - of course - peroxide blondes. Willetts' eye for the telling detail is always sharp and sometimes uncanny, and I warmly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in postwar British culture, in real-life detective work and in good writing.