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Why do the British seem to be so much better than Americans at depicting gay criminals? I’m thinking of Jake Arnott, Jack Dickson, among several others. Has it something to do with the British culture’s apparently ambivalent attitude about the Cambridge spies Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt and the racketeer Ronnie Kray as contrasted with our more puritanical, judgmental mentality?
Crook entertainingly follows the twists and turns in the life of Ned Fickler, a London black teenager on the dole who finds crime irresistible. Since his best mate is the incredibly stupid and homophobic Colly Briggs, Ned prefers to work on his own whenever possible.
Life gets complicated when he falls for young police detective Jason Truman. Brought together by a sort of quid pro quo pair of incidents—Ned saves Jason from a vicious assault; Jason saves Ned from a robbery charge—Jason continues to turn a blind eye when necessary to Ned’s forays to the wrong side of the law.
However, he has no real inkling, even as they begin to share the same flat, just how felonious Ned’s life is becoming under the tutelage of gangster boss Harold Palmer. The chronicle of Ned’s misdemeanors segues into a murder mystery: who has stomped people who got into Palmer’s way to death? But the reader’s true interest from beginning to end is discovering whether the beguiling and charismatic teenage dodger will pull off his next scheme.
The striking cover by Paul Richmond illustrates the opening scene in which Ned is mysteriously attracted to the portrait of the guy whose flat he is burgling, not knowing at the time that it belongs to Jason or that he is a copper.
By Michael Gouda
Paperback, 232 p., $16.99