Today I’m delighted to revisit my Five on Friday interview with Simon Michael which was first posted in June 2018. It’s been brought up to date to reflect Simon’s latest publications. Simon is the author of the best-selling London 1960s noir gangster series featuring his antihero barrister, Charles Holborne. The first book in the series, The Brief, so impressed my OH he wrote his one and only Amazon book review, sadly as I’d already posted one it meant both got taken down!
Simon studied Law at Kings College, London University, before being called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in 1978. Until the late 1990s he worked almost exclusively in the field of criminal law, prosecuting and defending enough murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy to provide him with a lifetime of true crime plots. Thereafter he specialised in clinical negligence and was listed in the Legal 500 as a Tier 1 specialist in his field. He retired early from the Bar to resume his literary career which started in the 1980s with books published in the UK and the USA.
He is the father of three children of whom he is inordinately proud, none of whom reads his books.
Over to Simon:
Which piece of music/song 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).
What (apart from family and friends) would you 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 a piece of advice for 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 something 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.
Tell us something you’d still like to do or achieve.
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.
(NB This post features Affiliate links from which I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases)
The Brief (Book 1)
Guilty until proven innocent…
Barrister Charles Holborne is not popular. A Jewish East Ender with a rough past, he is ostracised by his anti-Semitic and class-conscious colleagues who don’t want him in their prestigious Establishment profession.
And the bitterness Charles feels at work is spilling over into his personal life, putting his marriage under strain.
When a high-profile murder case lands on his desk, Charles is hopeful his fortunes will turn around. But after a shocking crime is committed, he finds himself on the other side of law…
Can he outwit those trying to frame him? Will he manage to unmask the real criminal?
Or will he find himself on trial for murder…?
An Honest Man (Book 2)
Corruption is at the core of the English justice system…
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.
So it seems too good to be true when the brief of a lifetime lands on his desk – with a pay check to match.
But as Charles delves deeper into the police corruption and warring criminal gangs involved in the case, he realises his reputation – and his life – could once more be on the line…
Can Charles win the case without compromising his integrity?
Or will he fail to remain An Honest Man…?
The Lighterman (Book 3)
Nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems…
Life for Charles Holborne seems to be settling down. He has a steady girlfriend, is in demand at the courts, and is back in contact with his estranged family.
Unfortunately, though, he’s got on the wrong side of two of the most dangerous men in London: Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
A shock encounter leads to Charles taking on one of the most important briefs of his career.
But as old prejudices resurface and Charles’s past comes back to haunt him, it seems not only his reputation, but his life could be on the line…
Can Charles settle the score with the Kray Twins? Will he lay to rest the ghosts of the past?
Or will his defence of The Lighterman be the last case he ever takes…?
Corrupted (Book 4)
A sordid secret lies at the heart of political London…
Charles Holborne has cemented his reputation as a respected murder trial lawyer, who is near unbeatable in the courtroom.
Having overcome the traumas of his past, he seems to be settled in his career and his relationship with his partner, Sally.
But Charles is his own worst enemy and old habits threaten to drag him down…
He is also still on the radar of the notorious Kray Twins and before long he finds himself drawn into one of their darker scandals.
Charles’s career – and his life – is in jeopardy as he fights for justice in a world of corruption and double-dealings.
The Waxwork Corpse (Book 5)
A deadly crime has been dragged to the surface…
Charles Holborne, maverick barrister, will never fit in at the Bar; he is too working-class, too Jewish and too dangerous.
But that makes him the perfect outsider to prosecute a shocking murder case which has already made its way to the press. By chance, a body was found, dumped in a lake.
It had clearly been there for some time, but the conditions in the water have meant that it was nearly perfectly preserved.
The police have managed to match this ‘waxwork corpse’ to a missing woman and if her husband – a senior judge – was the one who killed her, the scandal threatens to rock the British justice to its foundations.
The waxwork corpse is not the only thing to be raised from the past. The investigation also dredges up a violent mistake made by Charles in his youth which, if revealed, could put his own life at stake…
Force of Evil (Book 6)
A seemingly simple case leads Charles to a shocking discovery…
After a series of successful cases, Charles Holborne’s reputation is on the rise.
He is asked to work pro bono to represent a widow in a recent accidental death case.
The deceased was a Sergeant Maynard, an RAF policeman who worked at the Cardington base in Bedfordshire.
It seems his death was the result of a tragic motorcycle collision, but Mrs Maynard insists her husband was murdered.
Though sceptical at first, Charles soon realises she could be right.
And as he delves further, he realises that the RAF base could be the centre of a much bigger criminal undertaking…
As rifts in the corrupt Metropolitan Police are revealed, and the threats to Charles and those he loves escalate, he begins to wonder — has he finally bitten off more than he can chew?
The Final Shot (Book 7)
They think it’s all over…
As England eagerly anticipates the World Cup Final, barrister Charles Holborne is briefed in another high-profile case.
Once a sadistic gangster, Reverend Stanley Sharpe found God while incarcerated and has run his own parish for a number of years since being released. But when he is convicted of murdering Frank Marshall, right-hand man to the Kray twins, he is sent back to prison for life.
Convinced that he is innocent, Reverend Sharpe’s wife begs Charles to apply to the Court of Appeal to reopen the case.
With his own question marks over whether Frank Marshall is really dead, Charles agrees to take the brief on.
But with the media now casting doubt over Sharpe’s redemption, Charles knows he is bound for failure unless he can find further evidence.
And to do so he must once again cross the most dangerous men in London…