Jake Arnott’s The Long Firm includes may discussion about crime and punishment, law and order and justice and in justice. Do you regard novels as useful sources of legal theory or merely irrelevant distraction?
It has been argued by recent legal theorists that novels are useful sources of legal theory. In Ian Ward’s book Law and literature: possibilities and perspectives , he argues that by studying literature, students are able to better understand law. He suggests, for example, that it is worth in the examination of ‘... the psychology of English property law ... [to look]... at the pictures in the Tale of Peter Rabbit Arguably, novels which have law as a central theme are a mirror ...view middle of the document...
It is the former that is of interest here.
The Long Firm is a useful examination of crime, punishment, law and order and justice. It is constructed as a series of 5 stories, with each character adopting the role of storyteller as lives become entwined with or separated from that of the main character – Harry Starks (‘Harry’). It is inappropriate to critique this work on the basis of its historic merit as it is a novel – a fiction - ‘... and whatever ... [real]... law is to be found ... is purely ancillary.’ Its merit comes not from its fact, but its fiction.
The novel is set within the world of criminals and those on the edge of society. It is set at a time of great change after the Second World War, where music, drugs, social mobility and issues of equality challenged the then status quo. The novel depicts some of those seeking to operate within this changing cultural landscape and how they adapt to the same, or not.
The main character, Harry, is a complex violent criminal, who enforces his system of rules with extreme cruelty. Jack the Hat describes Harry as having ‘...dead eyes ... He can hurt without feeling.’ Harry is cruel but not out of control, he operates within the rules of the criminal fraternity. He buys his suits from traditional Savile Row tailors just like other businessmen. He has a club called Stardust, where minor stars mixed drinking and drug taking with gangsters and corrupt police officers. But it was the gangsters who were ‘... the real stars at Stardust’ just like 1960’s London, which was dominated by the Kray brothers and their gang of celebrity criminals.
Harry seeks acceptance by association with members of the establishment, with who people like he would not have previously mixed. Lord Thursby (‘Thursby’), a ‘... none playing captain...’ has recently been elevated from the Commons. Thursby shares the base homosexual practices that Harry offers at his famous sex parties. Thursby chooses his club for their first business meeting for it had a ‘... touch of aristocratic raffishness ... that I ... knew Harry would be drawn to.’ Thursby becomes a member of the board for Harry’s company - that will operate the Long Firm crime. As their association deepens, Thursby assists Harry with his brief imperial adventure in Nigeria. Harry needs Thursby to gain the acceptability he desires personally and for his criminal enterprise to work. Thursby needs money and to satisfy his hungry desire for sex. Thursby is a selfish hypocrite, his greatest fear being discovery and fall from grace. Harry has no fear of falling.
Radical changes experienced by society during the 1960’s underpin the relationships, activities and challenges faced by the characters and their dealings with Harry. The resting actress – Ruby Ryder – for example, sees her career progress from bankrupt wife (of jailed husband) to live in lover (of a slum landlord) to finally running Harry ’s new club (an up market strip joint). She progresses...