Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
Flannel suits were giving way to smart suits in 1964 and Vincent Treadwell took his with him when he was encouraged to leave Scotland Yard and take a temporary placement in Brighton. The sea air might have been good for him – the London air definitely was not, as Treadwell had accused a senior officer of corruption, had been attacked and left concussed if not brain damaged, and in his troubled state may also have killed a witness.
Unfortunately, Brighton, chosen as a home by so many of our best and brightest entertainers and celebrities, still had the criminal underworld and masterminds that had plagued it for most of the twentieth century; men with a taste for violence, little appetite for restraint, and an ocean handy for disposing of evidence that they could not use otherwise to terrorise the town. Most of that, though, Treadwell appeared not to know when he stepped off the train; which is odd because, from the list of the books in his suitcase, he seemed an educated man.
A man is dead, the godfather – Jack Regent – is missing and his number two, Francis Pierce, still emanates evil though he is blind and taps along with a cane like some viler Blind Pugh. The business of crime continues without its ruling hand as though dark forces now rule the place. And to make it worse, the kids are listening to rock and roll music and the coming Bank Holiday will draw Mods and Rockers to fight it out in the lanes, promenades and beaches. Trying to get closer to Jack Regent, Treadwell only finds himself getting intimately close to Bobbie LaVita, Regent’s girl-friend, and intimately close means too close.
In this nightmarish scenario Danny Miller uses his backstory – Treadwell’s ignorance is assumed; in fact, he grew up in the town and escaped from its slums by escaping to London. His brother neither escaped the town nor the consequent life of crime, he is a petty criminal and drug dealer, likely responsible for an addict’s overdose death. Treadwell’s knowledge, though, is a deeper crime – he saw Francis Pierce almost at his worst, enforcing Regent’s law, he saw men thrown from their tenements, he has seen their ruins. He did not, though, see Francis Pierce at his worst because the revelation of that worst is the plot and secret of this book.
Danny Miller’s Brighton is a phantasmagoria of evil. It is, however, handicapped, and handicapped mainly by anachronism. Firstly, Treadwell calls himself “Detective Treadwell” rather than “Detective Constable Treadwell” – this seems to be a modern narrative development as Miller is not the first to do it, but it is jarring. Secondly, there are errors in the period – Shoreham would not have been a container port, “bubblegum” music did not appear for several years, and in 1964 a pornographic model would not have been a heroin needle tracked scag whore as the drug was still being supplied on script; there are more. Sociologists have claimed that the Mods and Rockers sea-front battles existed only in the newspapers, only being confirmed much later in films such as Quadrophenia. See through all that, though, as Treadwell tries to see through Bobbie LaVita’s alleged life story, and you will find something deeper, darker and more worked out. I wonder where Treadwell will go next.
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