With the war over, the forties, fifties and sixties have the aura of a golden age. But nostalgia is deceptive. From teenage Teddy Boy razor gangs and casual stabbings at dance halls to the psychopathic Krays, 'Mad' Frankie Fraser and Ronnie Biggs, Villains' Paradise reveals the chilling true story of the crimes of postwar Britain.
With the narrative pace of the best detective fiction, Donald Thomas creates a thrilling journey into the heart of postwar Britain's secret history.
The latest installment in Thomas's fascinating series unearthing the\t\t sordid underbelly of Britain (The Victorian\t\t Underworld) examines the postwar years, concluding his survey in the\t\t gritty 1970s. Between 1944 and 1945, he finds, violent crime almost doubled as\t\t army deserters and black marketeers struggled for control of the streets; by\t\t 1970, violent crime had only tripled. Not a shocking tabloid newspaper goes\t\t unread, not an Old Bailey transcript unperused, as Thomas tracks down the\t\t half-forgotten felons (Jack Spot, the Velvet Kid) who both terrorized and\t\t thrilled the country. Alongside the psychopathic killers (John Haigh, the "Acid\t\t Bath Murderer," who resembled Hollywood actor Ronald Colman), Thomas\t\t investigates the prostitution rings, the early days of drug dealing and the\t\t sharply dressed spivs who exported the fraud now known as three-card monte to\t\t the United States. On the other side, there's the creation of the Ghost\t\t Squad undercover officers penetrating the underworld and the rise of the\t\t "supergrass." In 1970, Bertie Smalls, a veteran of 15 armed robberies himself,\t\t put away 32 of his colleagues, who menacingly sang "We'll Meet Again" when he\t\t appeared in the witness box. It makes for wonderfully colorful history, told\t\t with all the relish of the true-crime aficionado in a very British, almost\t\t Dickensian kind of way.