Book Review: Criminal London

Criminal London - High Res

Stay in London long enough and you’ll end up stumbling across crime – or if you’re unlucky, it will find you. So begins the introduction to Kris and Nina Hollington’s Criminal London, which goes on to recount the 1924 story of one Mrs Mahon who, suspecting her husband of infidelity, began an investigation that revealed not just a mistress, but that her husband had murdered and dismembered her.

I have read quite a few books on London’s criminal underworld, past and present, and when I took delivery of Criminal London I admit to wondering how there could possibly be room for another one. Two days later, however, I can confirm not only that this is a fascinating and practical guide that will be consulted over and again, but also – and this is where it scores most heavily – one that will be carried with me on my travels.

The Hollingtons’ work is billed as ‘a sightseer’s guide to the capital of crime’ and it succeeds brilliantly in this regard. It manages to remain pocket-sized yet its 300 plus pages are crammed with interesting detail and stories about London’s famous and lesser-known villains and crime scenes, neatly crafted by author and journalist Kris Hollington. Each site gets a page to itself and is brought to life by well-chosen full page photographs, many in colour, by Kris’s wife Nina.

Criminal London spreads 2

The content is fascinating. All the old favourites are here, from Jack Sheppard to Jack the Ripper and, of course, London’s infamous gang families: the Krays, Richardsons and Sabinis. There are dozens of less well-known stories here, too – and some remarkable coincidences. My personal favourite concerns the case that inspired the 1950 film The Blue Lamp, which itself spawned London’s first TV cop series, Dixon of Dock Green. One afternoon in 1947, London’s famous executioner Albert Pierrepoint, was having a quiet drink in his local, the Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street, when he witnessed a hit-and-run on a nearby jewellers at which a member of the public was shot and killed. Five months later, after a manhunt and Old Bailey trial, Pierrepoint found himself hanging two of the perpetrators.

The book hangs together well. As Hollington writes in his introduction, the locations were chosen for their accessibility, importance and proximity to each other to enable the book to be used as a practical walking guide. The sites (more than 100 of them) have been grouped into seven sections: one for each of the four points of the central London compass and three specific walks covering the territory of the Kray twins, Jack the Ripper and Arthur Conan Doyle. There are helpful maps and diagrams and each location is accompanied where relevant by key phone numbers, websites, opening times, prices and nearest tube stations. The authors have really thought this through: the listed locations even include a good scattering of pubs where walkers can take a break at the scene of a crime. My only criticism is that the text is on the small side but this is worthwhile consequence of the detail that has been packed in.

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The blurb ends: ‘perfect for adventurous tourists and curious Londoners’. This curious Londoner agrees.

Criminal London: a Sightseer’s Guide to the Capital of Crime

By Kris Hollington, photographer Nina Hollington.

AURUM, 21st March 2013, £10.99 (although you can currently get it for £7.58 from Amazon via this link)

COMPETITION

The publishers, Aurum Press, are kindly offering a free copy of the book to the winner of the following competition. To take part, follow this blog and answer the following questions:

  1. What was the occupation of Albert Pierrepoint’s father?
  2. What job did Albert do after he retired as Executioner?
  3. Which famous war criminal did Pierrepoint hang at Wandsworth on 3 January 1946?

Please send answers by email to: julianwoodford[at]gmail[dot]com

The winner will be chosen at random from all correct entries received before midnight on 5th April 2013 and will be contacted directly by the publisher.

One thought on “Book Review: Criminal London

  1. It is a superb addition to the shelf. Like you, I was sceptical the authors could bring anything new to bear on the subject. But even the sections on the Krays and the Ripper have a few details I wasn’t aware of. Buy it! (Or win it here.)

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