The other side of true crime, once we’ve sickened ourselves with mass murder, is gang warfare. Again it’s the disconnect which makes it palatable. Reading books about Prohibition in America, about London in the fifties and sixties or Las Vegas in the sixties and seventies, you could almost admire these men. Invariably from poor backgrounds, forcing their way up the food chain, supplying a need, be it drugs, alcohol, or olive oil. But have them live next door in your real life…?
I live a couple minutes walk away from the site of one of The Kray’s notorious killings, I’ve worked around Whitechapel over the years and one of my cycle routes home would take me down Vallance Road as well as past a couple of the Ripper sites. When I first worked in Shoreditch, over a quarter of century ago, the rumours surrounding some of the bars and pubs in the area would usually involve the landlord being an associate of the boys.
Reading John Pearson’s The Profession of Violence gives an insight into the glamorous world of sixties’ gangsters without any danger to your body, not so sure about your soul. Again with the distance of time if not space, reading books about men who you would avoid in the street, their lives and careers written out in chapters with a beginning, middle and denouncement as if a piece of fiction, makes them almost acceptable. Go to The Blind Beggar and there is no attempt to cover up its gruesome part in East End folklore.
Morbid fascination doesn’t end there. Martin Fido’s Murder Guide To London is basically an A-Z of murder sites, with an index where you can search by victim, murderer or address. Over the years I’ve worked all over London and have often looked up a new area in the guide to see if I could be possibly walking past a famous murder site.
However, I live in an area that has had its problems with gangs in recent years. Young boys stabbing and shooting each other for post-code violations, for living in a different estate, for drug dealing on the wrong corner. A schoolboy was stabbed to death a couple of weeks ago on a bus just up the road. It barely made the national news, one 14 year-old killing another 14 year-old in Hackney is considered less newsworthy than Our Kate’s™ shoes.
Alex and his Droogs, and Pinkie put paid to the lie that the tabloids like to peddle, if we’re going to Hell in a handcart, then we’ve been going there for a very long-time. Graham Greene didn’t invent gang violence; anymore than Anthony Burgess was prophesising the 21st Century. What’s interesting is that Alex is 15 and Pinkie is 17, young men have being killing each other in the real world as well as in fiction for a long-time.
We read fiction such as The Godfather or read biographies about Lucky Luciano or Al Capone and view them as historical figures and get a vicarious thrill from their crimes while ignoring the hooded youths around the corner. Who will tell their stories in 30 years time?