- Shaun Baines
The Boxer Boys Collection by Nick Rippington
Some Family feuds just won’t go away… For 40 years the Dolans and the Marshalls have lived side by side on the same rundown housing estate in east London. While teens Gary Marshall and Arnie Dolan forge a close friendship, fighting constant battles to survive both on the streets and closer to home, the relationship between their parents is complicated and, at times, toxic. Gradually family secrets emerge which have their roots in the early 80s… and Gary and Arnie realise their entire upbringing was built on lies.
Having previously read Dying Seconds, I'm going back to the start with Crossing the Whitewash, a thrilling, gritty study of London gangster noir.
The characters are subject to their environment, a rundown estate where survival comes at any cost. There are levels of immorality. Some characters bend the law to get by. Others throttle it to death. And that's where Arnie Dolan comes in, the erstwhile leader of the Boxer Boys. He's volatile, despicable and oddly hypnotic. People often confuse power with charisma. Arnie has them both, becoming the pivot around which the other characters turn.
His best friend Gary Marshall escapes Arnie's clutches and it is the relationship between the two of them that forms the basis of the plot. One goes to prison while the other starts a new life. One of the things I liked most about this book was the idea that sometimes love isn't enough. Clean breaks have to be made and how do you survive that? It's a theme that is explored through Arnie and Gary's relationship, but also through the secondary characters.
My favourite character was JW Owens, the lost legend of the rugby field. Crippled by his own demons, his rises to his potential by the closing chapters in a brawl that is both terrifying and surreal. It's one of the best sequences I've read in a long time.
Speaking of which, there are scenes of haunting, yet plausible acts of violence that some readers may not appreciate. That's a warning, not dissuasion. They perfectly suit the genre and feel necessary in maintaining the razor sharp edge this book balances upon.
Twist after twist, this is a corkscrew of a novel. There is a great sense of location, which is difficult to create and harder to maintain, especially as the action is split between London and Wales. Each place feels unique with a definite distinction between the two, something which is aptly symbolised in the two main characters. Or perhaps it is the other way around.
Either way, Crossing the Whitewash is a must for fans of gangster fiction and is available on Amazon. Should you enjoy it, please leave a review for the author. It makes all the difference.