Just before 2.30pm on 29 April 1947, three masked gunmen raided a shop in Soho, London’s bohemian heartland. Little did they realise that they were destined to provide the blood-spattered climax to the tidal wave of gun-crime and gangsterism threatening to overwhelm post-war London.
By the end of that afternoon, the police had launched what would become one of the biggest and most ingenious murder-hunts of the twentieth-century. Led by Chief Inspector Bob Fabian, the investigation would generate acres of press coverage. It would spawn Britain’s first hit television cop show. It would inspire The Blue Lamp, among the all-time British movie hits. And it would bring together some of the most celebrated crime-fighters of the era, men whose lives were transformed by what happened that afternoon.
Part police procedural, part courtroom drama, populated by a cast including the hangman Albert Pierrepoint and the actress Ingrid Bergman. North Soho 999 paints an atmospheric, non-fiction portrait of the lost world of bomb-sites, spivs and teenage hoodlums.
“I urge you to read North Soho 999 by Paul Willetts. It's the absolutely gripping true story of an armed raid on a Fitzrovia jewellers/pawnbrokers that escalated into a huge manhunt. The book drips with a fantastic Austerity Britain atmosphere, a place of flick-knives and gangsters and a capital awash with the plundered firearms of the recent war. It reads like a novel and is amazingly relevant, showing how the same terrors and preoccupations about society spinning out of control have always been with us.”—Mark Gatiss, The Independent on Sunday “Summer Reading Special, 2007”
“Fitzrovia is the setting of Paul Willetts's tour-de-force North Soho 999, a recreation of the circumstances of a murder that took place on 29 April 1947... It is a fascinating account of a vanished Britain.”—Philip French, The Times Literary Supplement
“This book is like one of the best black and white films—only it's a true account of a notorious London gun-crime in 1947. Guns were prevalent just after the war and times were hard—and it was Fabian of the Yard who solved the murder of the young garage-owner, Alec de Antiquis. This is so meticulously well-researched, and such a compulsive read, that you are taken straight back to those grey post-war streets of Soho and the days of narks, spivs and squealers, when detectives wore suits and guns were found in the mud at Wapping. Unputdownable.”—Virginia Ironside, The Independent “Books of the Year, 2007”
“Jane Stevenson’s Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye was one of the best biographies I have read in years… I also liked Paul Willetts’s immensely well-researched evocation of late 1940s London gangland, NorthSoho 999.”—D.J. Taylor, The Spectator “Books of the Year, 2007”
“This book is like a classic black and white film... There are more twists and turns in this book than many a crime novel and great descriptions of the key players.”—The Oldie
“A really excellent book that provides a vivid flavour of post-war London.”—Roy Greenslade
“An amazingly atmospheric recreation of bombed-out post-war London, stalked by gangs and menaced by the threat of gun-crime.”—Robert Elms, BBC Radio LondonLive
“I also loved North Soho 999… It’s a tragic tale, deftly told, scattered with moments of dark comedy and a cast of memorable characters, from the pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury to the hangman Albert Pierrepoint. Heavy stuff delivered with a commendable lightness of touch.”—The Eastern Daily Press ‘Books of the Year’, 2007
“A brilliant snapshot of 40s London, peopled by crooks, coppers and creeps. Willetts slices through time with the skill of a razor-flashing wide-boy. Essential reading.”—John King, bestselling author of The Football Factory