Today I’m happy to be introducing Simon Michael to my Five on Friday slot. Simon was my very first ‘guinea pig’ when I first branched out and tried something new on my blog. He happily agreed to be my first Q & A author and has long been on my list for this feature. His first book The Brief so impressed my OH he wrote his one and only book review and you can catch my review here.
Simon Michael is the author of the best-selling London 1960s noir gangster series featuring his antihero barrister, Charles Holborne. Simon writes from personal experience: a barrister for 37 years, he worked in the Old Bailey and other criminal courts defending and prosecuting a wide selection of murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy. The 1960s was the “Wild West” of British justice, a time when the Krays, Richardsons and other violent gangs fought for control of London’s organised crime, and the corrupt Metropolitan Police beat up suspects, twisted evidence and took a share of the criminal proceeds. Simon weaves into his thrillers genuine court documents from cases on which he worked on the big stories of the 1960s.
Simon was published here and in America in the 1980s and returned to writing when he retired from the law in 2016. The Charles Holborne series, The Brief, An Honest Man and The Lighterman, have all garnered strong reviews for their authenticity and excitement. Simon’s theme is alienation; Holborne, who dabbled in crime and in serious violence before becoming a barrister, is an outsider both in the East End where he grew up and in the Temples of the Law where he faces daily class and religious prejudice. He has been compared to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade, honourable men surrounded by corruption and violence, trying to steer an honest course.
The fourth book in the series, Corrupted, takes actual political events from the 1960s to create a frighteningly topical crime thriller of sexual abuse by people in positions of power, and an Establishment cover-up. It was published on 21 June.
So over to Simon …
Which 5 pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?
Waiting for the Ghost Train by Madness. When they were very little, my eldest kids used to beg me to put this on in the car and they would sing it at the top of their lungs with their legs kicking, especially the line “It’s black and white, don’t try to hide it”. The song’s rarely included in compilations of the best Madness songs, but I think it’s greatly undervalued. The video’s brilliant (and Suggs is so young!):
Walking in Memphis by Marc Cohn – in fact the entire album on which this track features. It was the soundtrack of the best road trip of my life, across the US on Route 66 with my son – just turned 21 – in an electric blue Mustang. On the journey from Chicago to San Francisco we detoured around the Mississippi Delta, taking in a different town and blues venue every night, including Memphis. By accident, but with impeccable timing, the Marc Cohn track was playing as we drove down Beale Street.
Bring Me Sunshine by Morecambe and Wise. Watched it every week with my parents and brother and millions of others. That’s something we’ve lost with streaming on demand; how often nowadays does the entire country talk about a beloved show the following morning? It was a bit of the glue that bound us all together, belonging to a more innocent time. And I still miss Eric and Ernie.
Blue in Green, Miles Davis. The best jazz there is. Period.
The theme to Cinema Paradiso, Ennio Morricone. Like the film itself, which is about the relationship between an old man and a young boy and a shared love of cinema, it’s beautiful and haunting (and see bucket list questions below). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSkyoyyvnAY.
Highlight the things (apart from family and friends) you’d find it hard to live without.
A really powerful shower (can’t stand baths – you get all hot and then need a cold shower to cool off).
Can you offer 5 pieces of advice you’d give to your younger self?
Stop sweating the small stuff.
Try to be centred and enjoy the moment, because life’s not a race to be won, but a series of moments to experience.
(Pretty much the same as above:) Spend more time having fun – especially with your kids – and less time working.
Don’t give up playing the guitar; once you’ve lost it, it’s hard to make old fingers move as well.
Don’t move out of London just as property prices start to go crazy. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Tell us 5 things that most people don’t know about you.
I paid to obtain my degree and qualify as a barrister by working as a council labourer.
As an 18 year old I ran away and lived in Paris for a year, where I worked in a wholesale textile company that supplied the big couturiers.
I once saved the lives of two people in a blizzard in the Alps.
I once got so drunk in a bar in Colorado that I woke up the following morning in a trailer occupied by a very friendly nurse and a three-legged dog.
I’m very shy. Odd, I know, for a barrister and performer.
What are the first 5 things you’d have on your bucket list?
See the Northern (or Southern) Lights. Been chasing them for years and they’re hiding from me.
Hire or buy a top-of-the-range American Airstream mobile home – all cigar-shaped glinting aluminium – and take six months to travel round small town America.
Re-learn to play the guitar. I played adequately at one time but gave up 20 years ago and now need to start again.
Can I have something that is unlikely ever to happen? If so, it’s to buy or run an art house cinema with a licence and bistro food. Retrospectives of my favourite directors and actors; comfortable settees with a glass of wine or beer and good food. Fab.
We realise that there are only 4 things on the list, but Simon felt that among other things, being able to write full-time had already ticked off one of his big choices and he didn’t want to be greedy.
Thanks so much Simon for agreeing to be grilled twice! I love the things that most people don’t know about you. I’m sure we all want to know the full stories behind them now – you’re in danger of being asked back to expand (don’t panic – we’ll leave that for your memoirs!). Hope you get to achieve more things on your bucket list, when you succeed in buying or running your art house cinema and bistro – please can I have an invite to the opening? Many thanks for including links to our music choices too – much appreciated.
Charles is building his reputation as a brilliant murder trial lawyer and living the good life with partner Sally. But he can’t escape the influences and dangers of the past, and finds himself drawn once more into the orbit of the notorious Kray twins.
It’s not long before Charles is courting scandal and threats to his very life when investigating a sex ring that involves not just the Krays and the Mafia, but goes to the very echelons of the country’s power.
Gangland leader Ronnie Kray is not a man to forgive or forget. Holborne has ‘taken liberties’ and revenge will follow. But how to get at a tough and resourceful Brief with his own history of criminality and a penchant for violence? The answer: find a man who can’t be hanged twice.
Now Holborne must dig up the secrets of the past to save two lives…one of them his own.
Criminal barrister Charles Holborne may have just escaped the hangman by proving he was framed for murder, but his life is now in ruins. His wife is dead, his high-flying career has morphed into criminal notoriety, and bankruptcy threatens. When the biggest brief of Charles’s career unexpectedly lands on his desk, it looks as if he has been thrown a lifeline.
But far from keeping him afloat, it drags him ever deeper into the shadowy underworld of 1960s London. Now, not only is his practice at stake, but his very life. Can Charles extricate himself from a chess game played from the shadows by corrupt police officers and warring gangs without once again turning to crime himself?
In the 60s London of gangsters, prejudice and terrifying gang wars, Barrister Charles Holborne spends his life dealing with the worst examples of violent criminality. After successfully winning a number of high profile cases, he is building a reputation among Soho’s criminal classes as a man who gets the job done, a reputation that doesn’t endear him to his establishment colleagues.
Yet Charles is not all he seems, and is battling both personal demons and his own past. When his philandering wife Henrietta is found with her throat slashed, Charles finds himself on the wrong side of the law and in serious trouble of the murderous kind. Arrested for her murder, can Charles discover the truth of her brutal slaying and escape the hangman’s noose?
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