The best crime books set in London

Mike Gerrard Author Of Strip till Dead
By Mike Gerrard

Who am I?

I began my freelance career as a travel writer, though I now also write about drinks. While living in London I worked for a while at the men’s magazine, Mayfair, and around that time went out for several months with a woman who was a stripper. I didn’t know that when we met, so judged her by her personality not her profession. One of the magazine’s models was murdered, and one of the staff questioned by police. He was totally innocent. I wanted to write the kind of book I like reading, bringing together those two storylines to create a fictional version of a very real part of London life.


I wrote...

Strip till Dead

By Mike Gerrard,

Book cover of Strip till Dead

What is my book about?

Liz is Nicola. Nicola is a stripper. And a stripper is about to die. When Liz Pendle moves from the north of England to go to university in London, her life is about to change in more ways than she can imagine. Persuaded by her flatmate Zuzzi that stripping is an easy way to make money to pay off her student loan, Liz is soon taking her clothes off in some of London’s seediest pubs and clubs. But when a stripper is found murdered, Liz is lured even further into this secret world.

The books I picked & why

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The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins

By John Pearson,

Book cover of The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins

Why this book?

I knew the author when I worked for his literary agent in London, and this is a fascinating and frightening look at the London crime world of the Kray Twins. They ruthlessly ruled parts of London, including the East End, and was an essential background re-read when I wrote my own London crime novel. I was trying to show behind the scenes of the world of striptease, but this book is a reminder of what’s behind even that behind-the-scenes world. I used to send a 6-monthly royalty cheque to their mother as their share for co-operating with the book, which is why it’s so authentic.

The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins

By John Pearson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Profession of Violence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic, bestselling account of the infamous Kray twins, now a major film, starring Tom Hardy.

Reggie and Ronnie Kray ruled London's gangland during the 60s with a ruthlessness and viciousness that shocks even now. Building an empire of organised crime that has never been matched, the brothers swindled, extorted and terrorised - while enjoying a glittering celebrity status at the heart of the swinging 60s scene, until their downfall and imprisonment for life.


The Long Firm

By Jake Arnott,

Book cover of The Long Firm

Why this book?

This is an obvious follow-on from my first choice, a gritty fictionalised version of the kind of world the Kray Brothers moved in. It features the gangster Harry Starks, who is both a porn king and a sociology graduate, and has one of those great openings that grips you from the start:

"You know the song, don’t you?" “There’s no business like show business.” Harry gets the Ethel Merman intonation just right as he heats up a poker in the gas burner.

How can you not read on, albeit a little nervously?

The Long Firm

By Jake Arnott,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Long Firm as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The cult bestseller that launched Jake Arnott as one of the most exciting new voices of the decade - 'A gangster novel every bit as cool, stylish and venomous as the London in which it's set' (Independent on Sunday)

'I'll tell you what happens now,' Harry says, reading my mind. 'You can go now. We're quits. You don't talk to anybody about anything. You've had a taste of what will happen if you do.'

Meet Harry Starks: club owner, racketeer, porn king, sociology graduate and Judy Garland fan. To be in his orbit is to be caught up in the…


The Cuckoo's Calling

By Robert Galbraith,

Book cover of The Cuckoo's Calling

Why this book?

I didn’t know what to expect from this first crime novel written by J.K. Rowling using a pseudonym – and all credit to her for selling the book without revealing she had written it. It would have been a success whoever the author was, though, as it introduces a truly original and very real private eye in Cormoran Strike. His relationship with his female assistant is also true-to-life, as is the London they inhabit. It’s deftly plotted and also manages to be funny, quite the writing achievement. 

The Cuckoo's Calling

By Robert Galbraith,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Cuckoo's Calling as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The Cuckoo's Calling reminds me why I fell in love with crime fiction in the first place' VAL MCDERMID

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Now a major BBC drama: The Strike series

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.

Strike is a war veteran - wounded both physically and psychologically - and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the…


Bad Penny Blues

By Cathi Unsworth,

Book cover of Bad Penny Blues

Why this book?

I absolutely loved this book, set in the London of the 1960s. It starts with the murder of a prostitute and takes you into the shady world of Soho with its drugs and clubs, its swingers and its singers. A young PC is assigned to work with the CID to catch the killer, as he found the body. The writing is vivid and it appeals as the murder, though central, is only part of a broader picture of the London of that era.

Bad Penny Blues

By Cathi Unsworth,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bad Penny Blues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A gripping crime novel inspired by the "Jack the Stripper" killings in 1960s London.

Bad Penny Blues is the latest gripping crime fiction from Cathi Unsworth, London's undisputed queen of noir. Set in late 1950s and early 1960s London, it is loosely based on the West London "Jack the Stripper" killings that rocked the city. The narrative follows police officer Pete Bradley, who investigates the serial killings of a series of prostitutes, and, in a parallel story, Stella, part of the art and fashion worlds of 1960s "Swinging London," who is haunted by visions of the murdered women.


A Study in Scarlet

By Arthur Conan Doyle,

Book cover of A Study in Scarlet

Why this book?

I couldn’t compile a London list without including Sherlock Holmes, the granddaddy of all London detectives. This is the book in which he makes his debut, using his detective and deductive skills to help investigate the death of a man in an abandoned house on Brixton Road. It’s a London – and style of story – unlike my other choices but it’s good to take a step back to an earlier era when crime, and the telling of it, was the same but different. I had to leave out some good crime writing to squeeze this one in, and long may the books keep on coming. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson: "A man who is tired of London crime writing is tired of life."

A Study in Scarlet

By Arthur Conan Doyle,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Study in Scarlet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet is the literary debut of the world's most famous fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, introduced by Iain Sinclair with notes by Ed Glinert in Penguin Classics.

Convalescing in London after a disastrous experience of war in Afghanistan, Dr John Watson finds himself sharing rooms with his enigmatic new acquaintance, Sherlock Holmes. But their quiet bachelor life at 221B Baker Street is soon interrupted by the grisly discovery of a dead man in a grimy 'ill-omened' house in south-east London, his face contorted by an expression of horror and hatred such as Watson has…


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