The Kray twins, a pair of vicious London gangsters, are after attorney Charles Holborne, and they don’t seem to be able to quit.
Holborne, whose original named was Horowitz, from a kosher Jewish family in London’s East End, made a bad mistake. He was able to get the Krays’ attorney acquitted. The Krays wanted him found guilty and sent away for a good long time. And now Holborne is on the Kray’s “list,”
Which means they want him eliminated.
It’s 1964. The corruption in the London underworld is matched only by the corruption in the police force. The police see what’s happening and decide they’re not interested in investigating. Charles manages to evade several attempts on his life, although one costs him about 30 stitches. The one he’s not expecting happens when he gets assigned to handle a murder brief, and the suspect is Izzy Conway. Izzy’s going to get the death penalty anyway, so the Krays tell him they’ll take care of his mother if he offs Charles. They even arrange for a weapon, smuggled in by a prison guard.
What the Krays don’t know is that Izzy is Charles’s first cousin. They’ve known each other since 1940, when Charles left his kosher family and went to work with Izzy’s on barges running the Thames. Being a lighterman – working on flat-bottomed barges – was the most dangerous work imaginable at the time, the favorite target of German bombers during the Blitz. Charles was only 15 but big for his age, and it was the best time of his life. Two years later, he was reclaimed by his parents and eventually joined the RAF. After the war, he went to Cambridge, changed his name, married the daughter of a title, and became an attorney in London’s Temple. But the wife is now dead, he has a reputation with the profession and the police, and the Krays are after him.
The Lighterman is the third in the Charles Holborne mysteries by Simon Michael, and it’s a stunning story of corruption, criminal gangs, the legal profession, and one man’s belief in the law – and how he’s forced to compromise with that belief. It’s also a story of social change, of old family traditions breaking down, and how the past continues to shape the present.
Michael is the author of five novels in the Charles Holborne series. He studied law at Kings College, London University and was called to the Bar in 1978. He worked primarily in the field of criminal law until the late 1990s, when he focused his practice on clinical negligence. He began writing in the 1980s and resumed it when he retired from legal practice.
The Charles Holborne series is getting better with each successive novel, and it began with an excellent one. The Lighterman reaches into recent history and tells a story that is simply riveting.