The Crime Readers' Association

Interview with Simon Michael, who writes about 1960s London

27th May 2018

Good afternoon, Simon and welcome to the CRA blog.

Hello, and thank you for inviting me.

For those of us who haven’t yet encountered the Charles Holborne series, would you object to the books being called “barrister procedurals”?

Ha! You must have noticed me getting my hackles up at that description in other interviews.


Well, no I don’t object, but – you might’ve noticed – I’m not keen on these pigeon holes. Although the stories are told from the perspective of Charles Holborne aka Charlie Horowitz, and he happens to be a barrister, unlike police procedurals they don’t take the reader through the entire criminal case from the barrister perspective. They’re stories about a troubled man, someone with a foot on both sides of the law, who happens to be a barrister, so he naturally comes into contact with serious crime.

But he’s not just a barrister, is he? He also happens to be a criminal and a boxer.

Well, he was a criminal and a boxer.

But doesn’t he break the law quite a bit in The Brief?  More so still in The Lighterman, I recall?

Yes, that’s true, but only in the cause of justice, when everyone else around him is breaking the rules willy-nilly.

So they are historical crime thrillers –

My kids would call them “historical” because the Sixties were before they were born. I was born in 1955, so describing part of my life as “historical” –

Okay – they’re crime thrillers set in the Sixties told from the perspective of a morally ambiguous barrister.

Yes. That’s a reasonable description.  Charles Holborne in 1960s London is the equivalent of Bernie Gunther in 1930s Berlin.

Ah, Philip Kerr, who sadly died earlier this year.

And, by an odd coincidence, was also discovered by my agent, Lisa Eveleigh.

Is that so? And other than Philip Kerr can you think of anyone else ploughing this sort of furrow?

Jake Arnott did, also the 1960s, but his were much closer to true crime. And he wasn’t following a specific character through various adventures or crimes.

So it’s quite an unusual genre, then?

I suppose so. They’re crime thrillers, they’re legal thrillers, they’re set 50 years ago, they’re about a particular man who’s a barrister who breaks the rules… Fair enough, maybe it does take a few liberties with the genre categorisation!

And that brings me to the new one, Corrupted.  Another genre? You’ve not touched upon political skulduggery before.  So now it’s a political thriller too?

That’s true, but almost accidental. I’m working my way through the 1960s and for someone like Charles, who grew up in the East End surrounded by villains and who associated with people like Ronnie and Reggie Kray, it’s almost inevitable that I would touch upon those events.

And for people who haven’t had the benefit of an advance review copy like me, by “those events” you mean the Krays’ gay sex parties at Cedra Court?

No spoilers. But, yes. Those parties led to one of the most extraordinary political and journalistic cover-ups this country has ever seen.

So, is Corrupted fiction or would you characterise it as a “true crime” book?

No, it’s definitely crime fiction. The principal events described in the book did happen and all of the major actors in the drama existed. Senior members of both the ruling Conservative party and the incoming Labour Party were involved. But the specific crime and victim at the heart of the novel come from my imagination. I have woven Charles’s fictional story through the events which really occurred.  And the barristers portrayed might be based on some of my former colleagues.

And trying to avoid spoilers, I have to say that, although it was extremely exciting and I was riveted to the page –

Thank you very much –

It is a much darker book than the three which preceded it.

Well, I’m writing noir thrillers; the seamy side of life in the early 1960s, before flower power, Carnaby Street and the Beatles. People forget: at that time England was still very grey and post-war. There were still uncleared bomb sites around London, for example. Although rationing had just ended I remember my mother’s excitement in the early 1960s when she was able to buy bananas for the first time since the war. But I do agree: this is a powerful and very dark story. I hope it remains an exciting thriller as well.

It certainly is that. Weren’t you worried about naming names?

You can’t libel the dead, and all of the main actors are now dead. But in any case, the basic facts making up the story are all publicly available on the Internet, or in other books and articles.

It’s also sadly topical, despite the fact that the events are set fifty years ago?

Unfortunately, it is. There’re still allegations of sexual impropriety being made against senior politicians from that period and more recently; still allegations of Establishment cover-ups. Prof Jay’s enquiry into sex abuse might, at last, throw a spotlight on the parts of our society where powerful people can still hide their crimes in the shadows.

When can your fans get their hands on Corrupted?

The official publication date is 21 June, which is when Waterstones Piccadilly are hosting the launch. I think it may be available for download from the publishers’ site and from Amazon slightly before that.

Will there be a blog tour?

I believe so. There’s also going to be a real tour. I’m taking my One-Man Show to several venues in England, for example Newcastle, Northampton and Leeds.

One-Man Show? You mean readings from the new book?

No. I talk about my family history, Cockneys for 500 years, their involvement with the Krays, and how a council labourer like myself came to be a barrister. I’ve also some pretty good stories from my life at the Bar.

That sounds interesting. Where can we find details?

My website! Details of my tour are up there together with how people can obtain tickets to specific events:

Well, thank you, Simon for your time and best of luck with the launch. So, Corrupted, the fourth book in the Charles Holborne series, will be published by Urbane Publications, on 21 June.

Thanks very much.

Find out more about Simon here and on his website.

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