In the sixties my brother, Michael, was a bit of a rock star. His band – The Avalons – supported everyone from Duane Eddy and Little Richard to The Walker Brothers, The Who and The Rolling Stones. The Avalons never made it big but they did big.
He told me stories about the pop world. It was the Wild West back then – criminals were making fortunes out of the scene. The Last King of Brighton is the gangster, John Hathaway, first glimpsed in City of Dreadful Night. And in the sixties he’s trying to be a pop star whilst his father is drawing him into the family crime business.
His father is a sociopath who chucks business rivals off the end of the West Pier to sink or swim. Always they sink but then they have their feet in blocks of concrete. Sometimes they are already dead, sometimes they aren’t. He fights with other sociopaths – twins from London, local villains. His son, John Hathaway, watches… and learns.
In the present day, barbarians are at the gate of Brighton. Balkan gangsters out for revenge for the Milldean Massacre committed in book one. Their methods are, frankly, medieval. Genghis Khan drank milk compared to these guys.
I’d always conceived my Brighton story as three books but I had no real idea when I started out what would be in books two and three. I took a gamble in the first, City of Dreadful Night, by not providing tidy resolutions for many of the things in it. The Last King of Brighton provides some of those resolutions but also sets other hares running.
I wanted to write a second novel that would continue to explore the events in the first but would also stand alone. I shamelessly pillaged those stories my brother had told me about the Sixties pop scene. It was fun to feature the man who murdered Jimi Hendrix and link him to my contemporary Brighton story. (You gotta read the book for that to make sense!)
I also wanted to explore the making of a city. The sixties was a time of massive building projects in Brighton and there is no way that criminals weren’t making money out of that.
Then there was the convenient true fact that the town’s Chief Constable ran crime in Brighton in the late fifties. He’d been a policeman in Brighton since 1926, when he joined to crack the heads of General Strikers.
In the Sixties all the police files relating to the unsolved Brighton Trunk Murder of 1934 were destroyed. It was under some 30 year rule. But I got to thinking: what if a corrupt chief constable who was a serving police officer back then did it because he had something to hide?
I’ve been using EM Forster’s dictum “only connect” in this trilogy. More pieces fit together in The Last King of Brighton but I’ve just delivered the third in which ALL is resolved. That comes out in August but, in the meantime, don’t try that thing in the preface at home…
The Last King of Brighton by Peter Guttridge is published by Severn House