Hot news from John King‘s London Books stable, who continue to tirelessly slog to rehabilitate some of the capital’s best forgotten fiction of the pre-war era. First up is Wide Boys Never Work, Robert Westerby’s 1937 “masterpiece of low-life literature” (which comes with the added bonus of an introduction by Iain Sinclair):
Jim Bankley works on a production line in a provincial town but when he runs into a London razor gang at a local dog-track he is seduced by the prospect of easy money, easy women and a life on the edge and follows them back to the neon-lit back alleys of Soho. Surrounded by thieves, used car salesmen, pimps and gangsters he soon slides down the greasy pole into a swamp of criminality, sleaze, poverty and exploitation. The wide boys of 1930s London are far too wide for young Jim and his old life with his family and steady employment in the factory seems not so bad, after all.
They Drive By Night, by socialist novelist James Curtis, follows on from London Books’ reissuing of his classic The Gilt Kid last year and comes with an introduction by Jonathan Meades:
James Curtis’s 1938 novel follows its protagonist, Shorty Mathews, as he is released from Pentonville Prison on the day a fellow-inmate is being executed and on visiting an old girlfriend stumbles into a murder scene. Knowing he will become the prime suspect he heads out to the Great North Road hitching lifts from hardened truckers and entering a pre-motorway world of petrol-soaked, steamy roadside caffs and travelling tarts looking for a lift and a ‘present’. All the time the police are closing in and the prospect of the hangman’s noose swings menacingly in the background whilst back in London the real killer ups the ante.
First posted: Sunday, October 26th, 2008.