THE LAST KING OF BRIGHTON, the second book in the Brighton trilogy, begins in 1963. John Hathaway is the teen-age son of Dennis Hathaway, the most dangerous man in Brighton. He runs the city without conscience or remorse. His son is interested in only one thing: the emerging music tidal wave that will put Britain at the top of the charts.
John is part of a band called the Avalons; his best friend is Charlie Laker, the drummer. As a band, they aren’t particularly good but they never have trouble finding a pub or a club willing to let them play. Gradually, they become “supporter bands” for some of the big names in the UK. John and his friends are delighted at their success, dreaming of being on the same level as The Animals and, maybe, even the Beatles. John’s ambitions are limited to rock-n-roll until he realizes that all the places the Avalons play are either owned by his father or have installed, willingly or not, the one-armed bandits that provide Dennis with significant cash. John begins to look at his father’s business with eyes wide open. Rock-n-roll success isn’t guaranteed but his father’s income is based on instilling fear in some and satisfying greed in others. There is no end to people depositing money into his father’s coffers. The elder Hathaway is content being one of the forces that dominates Brighton but John intends to be a one-man force, the King of Brighton.
THE LAST KING OF BRIGHTON does not have a wasted sentence. As the writer takes the story through the 1960’s, it is a tour of the cultural landscape of one area of Great Britain that is a microcosm of the nation as a whole. In CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT, the story encompasses the dismembered bodies of two women found in the left luggage departments of British Rail in the 1930’s to a botched raid on a housing estate in the present day. The second book revisits the trunk murders and introduces the Great Train Robbery, seemingly planned and executed by Brighton gangs, including an upper level police officer. As the story moves to the present, conflicts that have strained governments and societies make their mark. Former Chief Constable Robert Watts, who lost his career because of the Milldean housing estate raid says, “I think everything has to do with everything in Brighton. Corruption in the sixties links back to the Trunk Murders in the thirties and forward to now. And Hathaway, from being a peripheral figure, is now taking center stage.”
Bob Watts is still a decent man, trying to do the right thing, trying to correct his mistakes, but he is hampered by his unofficial status among the members of Brighton’s crime fighting squad. He doesn’t know if there is anyone, other than Sgt. Sarah Gilchrist, whom he can trust. Jimmy Tingley has spent his life in the shadows, a killer trained and primed by Her Majesty’s forces. Nothing he does is straightforward and everything he does is in service to a goal only he knows. Tingley is a good man to have on one’s side but no one is ever clear which side that is.
A series of brutal murders are discovered, the method a trademark of the Bosnian gangs who learned how to kill without mercy in the Balkan genocides of the nineties. It will not spoil the story if the reader decides to skip the Prologue; the brutality is searing. There is no mercy in THE LAST KING OF BRIGHTON. Hathaway is not amoral: he does not caring about right or wrong. He is immoral, knowing the difference between right and wrong, and always choosing wrong. He is too callous, too focused on ends to be considered insane because of the means.
Peter Guttridge has a rare talent. With the exception of the Prologue, the author writes about the brutality and the blood lust as if he were a reporter for a newspaper. He makes statements without tone; the reader is to take these statements for what they are. With one or two exceptions, the characters are not people one comes to care about. They made choices that led to their deaths. They die brutally but they lived that way, bringing to mind the old saw that those who live by the sword, die by the sword.
As with CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT, there is no resolution to the story. That will come at the end of the summer with the publication of the final book in the trilogy, GOD’S LONELY MAN. This is a series that is compelling because of the writing and the sense throughout the books that God saves the city for the sake of the one righteous man.