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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Long Firm

Jake Arnott

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To purchase The Long Firm

Title: The Long Firm
Author: Jake Arnott
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 345 pages
Availability: The Long Firm - US
The Long Firm - UK
The Long Firm - Canada
Crime unlimited - France
  • The Long Firm was made into a TV-movie by the BBC in 2004, with Mark Strong as Harry Starks and Derek Jacobi as Lord Teddy Thursby.

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Our Assessment:

C+ : Overlong and simply not gripping enough.

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe A 6/9/1999 Renee Graham
Daily Telegraph A- 28/7/1999 John Preston
The Guardian A+ 3/7/1999 Jimmy Boyle
The Independent A+ 16/8/1999 John Tague
New Statesman A- 23/8/1999 James Harkin
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 10/10/1999 Henry Shukman
Time Out A- 30/6/1999 Mark Sanderson
The Times A 3/7/1999 Dominic Bradbury

  Review Consensus:

  Dumbfoundingly enthusiastic, with only the slightest qualms about style and violence. Our only explanation is that, as with America's ridiculous infatuation with all things Mafia (or, say, all things Kennedy), these Brit-crits still live with so much 60s and Kray nostalgia that they read through glasses so rose-coloured that they remain oblivious to the actual quality of the work (or lack thereof).

From the Reviews:
  • "A brazenly confident writer, Arnott perfectly nails 1960s England in all its contradictions." - Renee Graham, Boston Globe

  • "(I)tís terrific - highly entertaining, cleverly plotted and deftly characterised." - John Preston, Daily Telegraph

  • "His style is so convincing that, more than once, I had to return to the blurb on the back of the book to confirm his age. He was born in 1961; and yet his ability to powerfully resurrect an era that he didn't personally experience is astonishing." - Jimmy Boyle, The Guardian

  • "(A) gangster story every bit as cool, stylish and venomous as the London in which it is set, an English original, streetwise in its lingo, and as sharp and lethal as a Savile Row lapel." - John Tague, The Indepenent

  • "This is pulp fiction so polished as to be immaculate. Read it on the beach or by the pool, with a thumping Britpop bassline in the background and a bottle of Tizer on ice." - James Harkin, New Statesman

  • "There may be the odd lapse in tone, in particular a kind of essayishness that afflicts each voice now and then, but not enough to matter. A 60's gangster novel with a compelling plot, poignant characters and plenty of wit." - Henry Shukman, The New York Times Book Review

  • "There are plenty of comic moments in The Long Firm, and some nasty ones too. In the end, though, Arnott seems as star-struck as the club-owning Starks. (...) like the rest of us, he turns out to be a sucker for seedy glamour. Still, slumming it doesn't get much better than this." - Mark Sanderson, Time Out

  • "Strong and confident, The Long Firm manages to hook you from the first. It is compulsive reading, powerful writing with an evocative feel for the bleaker side of the swinging Sixties; little wonder the BBC is already at work on a screen version." - Dominic Bradbury, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Long it is, firm it is not. First-time author Arnott paints a picture of the criminal Harry Starks through the eyes of five people sucked into his orbit (and his criminal activity). Known as the Torture Gang boss, Harry has a winning personality, a sharp mind, and some very nasty tendencies. He's also an open homosexual for good measure (but he is not, as he insists, gay).
       Arnott follows much of Harry's criminal career in the five separate sections that form this novel, narrated by five separate individuals -- a rent boy, a small-time actress, a Lord, and an academic among them. Shadowing Harry's career is the crooked policeman Mooney, his sometimes ally, sometimes nemesis. The first four episodes take Harry through the 1960's and are meant to be a portrait of the criminal side of that era, with Harry sort of a knock-off of the Krays (who also flitter in the background of the novel, as Harry's competition). Arnott has some success in depicting the era, but not much. Relying throughout too heavily on dialogue, there are few scenes that are evocative of the times, and much of the novel could, with little change, be set in almost any different time or locale. It means to be a Soho novel, and yet even that neighborhood, as well as the rest of London, barely comes to life.
       Each episode centers around one of Harry's illegal activities, with the narrators as bystanders who let themselves get suckered into Harry's complicated plots and do not wind up much the better for it. The title of the book refers to the first of these cons, in which Harry builds a house of cards which collapses slightly differently than he (or the narrator) hopes. The second sees Harry and his bought and bent Lord invest in a dubious Nigerian undertaking. Arnott sends them to Africa, and the turns of the plot are not half bad, but it is still not tightly paced and goes on too long.
       As the sixties wend to a close Harry finds himself jailed. The final section of the book revisits Harry ten years later, breaking out of prison. Again the set up is Arnott's tiresome ploy of his chosen narrators recalling Harry and then proceeding to recount their petty memories. Here it is an academic, who befriends Harry when he teaches a course in sociology at the prison. Arnott again fails to get the tone right, but he is fairly close to the mark, and the professor (a criminologist !) being won over by the criminal offers some laughs, though that he too finds himself the criminal's accomplice is not entirely convincing.
       The resolution, Harry's sunset, is almost satisfying. It fails, as does the book as a whole, largely because Arnott has not made Harry a sufficiently intriguing figure. He is a charmer, but the reader is hardly shown his seductive talents. He is a cruel criminal, but beyond the clever opening page there is not enough of that on display either. We want to like this gentleman crook, we want to sympathize with him, but we can't because he remains a fairly hollow figure.
       Arnott's five voices are fairly distinct and almost believable, but they dwell too much on themselves and their fairly uninteresting existences. Certainly the book is far too long-winded, and while some of Harry's criminal activity is amusing, it is not enough.

       If a charismatic actor gets the role of Harry then the BBC's mini-series might be decent. We're embarrassed to say it, but we recommend waiting for the TV version. The book is readable, but offers too few thrills for a thriller and too little literary quality to be of interest otherwise. The writing and the ideas are not bad, but they are also not particularly riveting.

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The Long Firm: Reviews: The Long Firm - the TV movie:
  • BBC publicity page
Jake Arnott: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Jake Arnott was born in 1961. This is his first novel. (That should not be an excuse.)

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© 1999-2009 the complete review

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