Ronald “Ronnie” and Reginald “Reggie” Kray were notorious 1960’s gangsters. They were perhaps some of the most famous gangsters we’ve ever seen. Their organised crime was something else entirely; they extorted and brutally murdered those who crossed them. Gangsters like the Kray’s are a curiosity of mine. I find it interesting to know the ins and outs of their lives and what leads them to the point of a criminal life.
I went to see the film Legend…not going to lie; I went three times within the first two weeks. My dad refuses to watch a film more than once, claiming that he’s “already seen it.” Yes dad, but that was in 1977. It’s now 2015. This very same dad went to see the film twice and he wants the DVD. Yeah. I nearly fainted too. That’s how good the film is. So naturally I imagined the biography the film was made from would be ten times better. I wasn’t disappointed.
This is the man behind the brilliantly written Kray twin biography, John George Pearson. If you don’t recognise the face, then maybe you’ll recognise the name from the authorised biography of James Bond? Ah, it’s all coming back to you now isn’t it?
Pearson presented us with the possibility James Bond was a real person living in Bermuda. And now he is quickly being put in the spotlight again with the release of the film Legend, all about the life of notorious east end gangsters the Kray twins. The film hit the cinemas recently and made an extraordinary amount at the box office (I’m probably responsible for about half of that…) I have no doubt many lovers of the film will be running out to pick up a copy of the biography, as I did.
What the film lacks in is description of the Kray twins when they were young. However the biography more than makes up for this. I honestly believe John Pearson is a genius. An absolute genius. The film begins with Reggie and Ronnie already famous gangsters, in their thirties (I’m guessing). Pearson spends much of this biography discussing the Kray’s childhood, teenage years and early adulthood.
To the point where you feel you know the Kray’s better than they knew themselves. Ronnie especially, you feel like you get an in-depth look into his mind and how though seemingly the same as his brother, was indeed, very different. There is so much detail given to this book, it’s outstanding. I can’t even put into words how much I enjoyed every minute detail given. My weird interest of real life events and gangsters was completely fulfilled with this book. There was nothing I was left wondering about by the end.
It’s exactly how a biography should be written. With every thought, quirk and move the Kray’s made. If you’re the type of person who’s interested in the idea of gangsters, like I am, then you’ll love this. A lot of the time I had to remind myself the Kray’s were real people, because the book was so in-depth it felt fictionalised. They were ruthless killers, no doubt. But their sense of person and presence is something pretty amazing.
Something that really interested me was discovering the Kray’s had some influences, or at least Ronnie did. He was fascinated by Al Capone and the Chicago Gangsters and believed dressing conservatively was the way a gangster should dress. He hated the idea of flash dressers (though he became interested in certain jewellery). He also admired Lawrence of Arabia. Someone who grew up with the twins states just after the reference to Lawrence, “the one thing they would have really liked to be was a pair of genuine English gentleman.”
One of my favourite things about this book was how the twins were presented as almost in human. Pearson says “they were not particularly big men…in several hundred bar brawls, woundings, shootings, and punch-ups they were involved in, they never once appear to have come off second best…both were abnormally tough…” Can you just imagine this? Ronnie (the bigger of the two) is described as 5’10” and twelve and a half stone. It’s not particularly big, some of the people they fought against were much bigger and some even were amateur boxers like twins were. However these men ended up being totally destroyed by the twins. It astounded me how inhuman they seemed. Even this next quote: “Ronnie is reputed to have drunk fifty-five brown ales in one night at the billiard hall and carried on next day as usual.” Mind-blowing.
One thing I find myself doing after reading a novel is going back to specific events to re-read them. The problem being I can never remember where in the novel it occurred. So thus begins the endless page flicking until I finally find what I wanted and then I have no interest in reading it anymore.
After reading this book, I discovered an index at the back where it lists every person mentioned in the biography. It also lists the subject with the pages numbers next to them. I literally jumped for joy when I saw this, because I can just go to the index to find specific things. If I want to find the paragraphs Ronnie feigns madness, it tells me the exact page numbers I can find it (as shown to the right).
Everybody knows that even the best of things have terrible reviews on Amazon. But Pearson’s biography is so good; the lowest star given is a three. If this was a hotel rating, it’d still be considered a damn good hotel.
Most of the people who reviewed this gave five stars. I would also give this biography five stars for all of the reasons I mentioned above.
If you love the film, then you’ll love the biography even more. Go pick up a copy now. You won’t regret it!
@mustbejlb (on Instagram and Twitter)
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