In 1968 author John Pearson, who also wrote Ian Fleming’s autobiography, was approached to write a biography of the Krays, London’s most notorious gangster duo. Here, we get an in depth look at their fascinating, complicated and somewhat tragic life.
Let’s be as frank as this book is, this isn’t for the faint of heart. The author himself appears to have been uneasy with the amount of graphic information he was given by the twins themselves before and during their incarceration. As expected, there is a somewhat casual approach to how the boys dealt with violence, especially from Ronnie who had a slight taste for the ultraviolent. However, like a car wreck, train wreck, you name it, it really is something that is a hard to take your eyes away from. Born in the East End during the Second World War, the brothers Reggie (the charismatic one) and Ronnie (the crazy one) would spend their time playing amidst the rubble left over from the blitz. From a young age, the two always appeared to have a rivalry with Ronnie constantly taunting and aggravating his twin. Usually they would come to blows and violent ones at that.
The book also takes its time in exploring them separately when they were separated for a brief period when Ronnie was incarcerated, further brewing his insanity which in some dark way, becomes one of the most interesting aspects of the book, well to me at least.
During his incarceration, Ronnie started to take a turn for the worse, suffering hallucinations and violent outbursts. He was certified insane and after a few years he was let out. There is a funny story how the two used their similar features so Ronnie could escape for a few months.
On the other hand, it appears that without the bloodthirsty Ronnie, Reggie would have been quite the businessman. While the former was in prison, the latter had made a name for himself, owning a few clubs, being a gentleman and what have you, but when Ronnie was released, the influx of violence had begun once again, mainly due to Reggie’s inability to say no and walk away from his brother’s taunts.
Still, though, the book was written while the two were still in power and Pearson states in the opening that regardless, he had to paint the siblings in a sympathetic light. What he does do though is give us an intriguing and thought provoking read. As the title suggests, the book doesn’t fall short of detailing the violence the two went through, from the pub brawls with rival gangs, to Ronnie who called himself The Colonel lavishing the carnage. What makes it even more interesting is that many of the passages and details came from the twins themselves as well as other members of their organisation.
Both thought provoking and at times terrifying, knowing that these two were a force of sheer brutality that had their own army at their disposal. Written and edited to perfection, Pearson and the book’s contributors are generous in with the details and stories, as though we’re listening to our relative give us some good old wartime stories…wartime stories that involved knuckle dusters and beer bottles and any dirty weapon one could fine that is.
Publisher: William Collins (film tie-in edition)
Release Date: 13th August 2015