Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Review: The Guv'nor by Lenny Mclean & Peter Gerrard

The Guv'nor is the nickname and biography of Lenny McLean and this book catalogues his violent progress in the east end of London from abused child to petty thief, hard man, minder, bare-knuckle boxer to bit-part actor; a truly astonishing and, at times, disturbing tale.

Although this is a biography it has the feel of an autobiography due to its first person narrative and use of colloquial English, giving it a really authentic feel and making it as if The Guv'nor is telling his story directly to the reader and makes for unusual and interesting reading. Indeed the litany of misdeeds and violence which are described in Lenny McLean's life would sound ridiculous if told in any other way and are only believable when hearing it from a first person perspective. This is the story of one of London's old-fashioned monsters but told in a way that reveals the good qualities of his character.

Whilst this is the story of a man who earned his living through violence, or the threats of violence, this book in no way glorifies it and the reader very quickly becomes aware of a code of honour which is religiously adhered to among these characters of the underworld; the author does exceedingly well to introduce the reader to the less obvious aspects of the Guv'nor's personality.

As well as giving an insight into the lives of such characters, this book gives the reader a glimpse of the British judicial system and reveals that it is far from perfect, indeed the final chapters of this story describe how McLean spends one year in prison before even receiving a trial.

Whilst this is a surprisingly interesting and captivating read much of the book has the same theme and rhythm, recalling bare-knuckle boxing matches, fights and other violent interludes and toward the last third of the book this becomes a little repetitive. However, the ending is engaging enough to wrest the book away from becoming dull and I think most readers will be left feeling like the Guv'nor is someone they could have got on with.

I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy biographies and tales of misadventure, particularly those of gangland violence in London in the 60s to the 90s. This is a surprisingly interesting story and I think many readers would enjoy it.

Score: 8/10

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