- Author: Simon Michael
- Published: June 2017 by Urbane Publications
- Category: Historical Fiction, Crime, Thriller, Suspense, Books, Book Review, Reading
The Lighterman is the third book in the bestselling series of legal thrillers starring barrister Charles Holborne. Simon Michael’s follow up to the bestselling The Brief and An Honest Man, continues the adventures of criminal barrister Charles Holborne.
A copy of The Lighterman came to me through a giveaway in conjunction with Matthew at Urbane Publications and Jo’s Book Blog. Not having read the first two books I was a little concerned, but happily there was enough back information woven into the story so that I didn’t feel confused at all or unable to follow the plot.
The story opens with a short prologue going back to September 1940 and the blitz. Charles Horowitz along with his brother, David, and parents, Harry and Millie, live in the East End and are taking shelter from the bombs in the depths of the school. When one of the bombs lands too close for comfort the family risk a race across the playground and just make it before the school suffers a direct hit. The Horowitz’s are evacuated to Carmarthen but after four weeks Charles runs away, back to London where he spends his formative years as a Lighterman with his cousin, Izzy.
Charles’ choice to anglicise his name, compounded by his ‘marrying out’ during his last Year at Cambridge was seen as a betrayal by his parents. However, his decision was prompted by the negative feelings for the Jewish community, fuelled mainly by their refusal to adapt and integrate. So Charles Holborne, as he is now known, is working in the Old Bailey, doing his best to navigate the corruption, bribery and crime which is rife in 1960’s London. The London of the notorious Kray twins. Charles has previously fallen foul of the twins, particularly Ronnie, and is on their ‘Hit List’. He gets no help from the police as they believe he was involved in the murder of his wife and deserves what he gets.
The man’s casing of the room complete, his eyes land on Charles and he moves immediately. In three silent steps, he halves the distance between the oak swing doors and Charles’ back. As he walks he allows the silver object to drop completely into his right palm and, with a precise click, the blade of a flick knife springs into place.
When Izzy is accused of murdering a Waterguard, the equivalent of todays River Police, Charles is forced to cross the line and break his own rules, as well as the law, in order to defend his cousin. His career, and both their lives, are in jeopardy but Charles is determined to do all he can to save his cousin. Charles’ methods may be questionable, but understandable under the circumstances, given the fact he didn’t know who he could trust.
The atmosphere of the 1960s is skilfully and evocatively portrayed. I had no idea what a Lighterman was and found the insights into their role on the River Thames, and how that aspect was woven into the story, fascinating and adds much to the characters of Charles and Izzy, both of whom are convincing, well drawn and engaging in their different ways. The tendency of the general public towards anti-Semitism, coupled with the suspicion surrounding his wife’s death, combine to give Charles an enigmatic quality.
Charles and Izzy’s relationship and the court case are at the heart of the story. The courtroom scenes are depicted wonderfully, with tension and drama. Awareness of the author’s background and knowledge adds immeasurably to the story’s credibility. An engrossing read, well crafted and with a great twist.
I chose to read and review The Lighterman. My thanks to Matthew, Jo and Simon Michael for my copy of the book.
About the author
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: he was a barrister for 37 years and 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 during what was often considered the “Wild West” of British justice. The 1960s was a time when the Krays and the Richardsons and other violent gangs fought for control of London’s organised crime, and the corrupt Metropolitan Police beat up suspects, twisted the evidence and took their share of the criminal proceeds. Simon weaves into his thrillers genuine court documents from cases on which he worked and the big stories of the 1960s.
Simon lives with his wife and youngest child in Bedfordshire. He is a founder member of the Ampthill Literary Festival and a former trustee and chairman of the Road Victims Trust, a charity devoted to supporting those bereaved or suffering life changing injury on the roads.