A young girl's disappearance drives The Lost, Roberta Kray's thrilling page-turner about the London underworld. This tight crime novel bursts with characters of varying degrees of nobility, insights into the mind of the criminal, the journalist and the detective, memorable bit players and a sense of locale that feels lived in.
One reason these coalesce so well may be that Kray, who has written two other crime novels, is the widow of Reggie Kray, a famed gangster who, with twin brother Ronnie, maintained a high profile in London in the 1950s and '60s, flourishing in such rackets as armed robbery and protection. They even owned a nightclub like Ray Stagg, one of the more complex characters in The Lost.
What triggers The Lost is a conversation between Len Curzon, a city reporter gone to seed and booze, and BJ Barrington, a big thug in jail for a small offense. BJ wants Len to write his biography; Len, who has written a few gangster-celebrity bios, is not interested in chronicling the life of a 24-year-old minor criminal. But he is interested in Paul Deacon, another prisoner in jail for the murder of Tony Keppell, the young scion of a well-known gangster family. Curzon's curiosity about Deacon's tete-a-tete with an attractive young woman triggers a complicated, enthralling story.
Among the key players: Harry Lind, a private eye who straddles mainstream and underworld; Jess Vaughan, a sensual reporter who is a gofer for Curzon; Sharon Harper, an opportunist who weds and beds some of London's most authoritative gangsters; and Grace Harper, the missing girl, and her (maybe) evil twin, Ellen Shaw.
Eventually a sort of justice begins to surface, putting all the worlds Kray conjures into some sort of order. The dialogue crackles, the plot negotiates hairpin turns, and the characters are always credible. Is The Lost a great novel? That might be too high praise. But there's no doubt it's great entertainment.
Carlo Wolff is a freelance writer from Cleveland.