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Friday, 3 July 2020

‘Bent’ by Joe Thomas

Published by Arcadia Books Ltd,
30 April 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-911350-73-6 (PB)

The writer is the author of several acclaimed thrillers set in Sáo Paulo, the final part of the quartet  Brazilian Psycho being scheduled for publication later this year. So the bar in this novel has been set high.

This time the hero, and villain, is a real-life figure, Harold ‘Tanky’ Challenor, SAS commando war hero. From 1951 onwards he’s a copper in the Metropolitan Police who is on a mission, by fair means or foul, (his modus operandi includes planting evidence, beating up and framing suspects) to clean up the gangster and prostitution rackets of 1960s Soho.  What is interesting is that Challenor was a friend of the author’s grandfather and although this book is a fictionalised account of Challenor, it’s spot-on in its vivid portrayal of the gritty Soho of that period redolent of corruption, sleazy clubs, drug trafficking and the stranglehold of the notorious Kray twins.

Much of the narrative takes the reader back to Challenor’s exploits in World War 2.  He served in North Africa and Italy in the Royal Army Medical Corps as an orderly before joining the SAS, participated in Operation Speedwell that derailed three trains, was taken captive twice and escaped both times.  Eventually he reached the safety of allied lines.  He was awarded the Military Medal in 1944.  

In 1964, Challenor stood trial at the Old Bailey charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice   but was deemed unfit to plead by reason of paranoid schizophrenia and admitted to a mental hospital. On discharge, he was employed by the firm of lawyers that had defended him at the trial.

This is a polished, relentless, edgy, fast paced, page-turning story of a troubled character who demonstrates no remorse for bending the rules.  Juxtaposing Challenor’s wartime and peacetime experiences is skilfully rendered, the tension never slackens and this results in a gripping read.   Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Serena Fairfax
Joe Thomas is a visiting lecturer in Literature and Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Prior to this, he lived and taught in São Paulo for ten years. Gringa is the second book to feature detective Mario Leme. The first, Paradise City, was published by Arcadia in 2017.

Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a lawyer in England and practised in London for many years. She began writing by contributing feature articles to legal periodicals then turned her hand to fiction. Having published nine novels all, bar one, hardwired with a romantic theme, she has also written short stories and accounts of her explorations off the beaten track that feature on her blog. A tenth, distinctly unromantic, novel is a work in progress. Thrillers, crime and mystery narratives, collecting old masks and singing are a few of her favourite things.

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