I’m not a big television watcher but a friend recommended The Peaky Blinders to me a few weeks ago and it’s excellent! Based on the history of real gangs around Birmingham in the 1920s, it’s historical, political and dramatic. Not for the faint hearted, The Peaky Blinders follows the story of a gang of illegal bookmakers and racketeers from Birmingham, the show is set in 1919 and covers gang warfare, a corrupt police force, a corrupt government, and the IRA. It’s a BBC 2 production, but Netflix has picked it up, I highly recommend it.
I’ve enjoyed it so much I got to thinking about books that might be set around the same subject. After asking in our reading group and doing some research I’ve come up with a list of books I’ll be checking out, and so I thought I’d share it with you.
The Alienist – Caleb Carr
The Peaky Blinders might have wreaked havoc on this side of the Atlantic, but over the water they’ve had their own criminal gangs. The Alienist is a crime novel, released in 1994, and just like the peeks you get of Churchill in The Peaky Blinders, here you’ll get appearances from Roosevelt and J.P Morgan in this tale of the underworld of New York set in 1896.
The Gangs of Birmingham – Philip Gooderson
The name Peaky Blinders is historically accurate but the actual programme no doubt takes a lot of poetic licence. Here, Gooderson’s book traces the real history of Birmingham’s violent, youth-fuelled gangs of the late 19th and early 20th century, from The Sloggers to The Peaky Blinders. The book is marketed as ‘The Real Peaky Blinders‘ to the US market.
King of the Clubs – Terry Turbo
Bring Tommy Shelby forward a few decades and you might be left with Terry Turbo, drug taking king of the rave scene. Here Terry chronicles how he built up the country’s biggest dance empire, rubbed shoulders with celebrities and gangsters, fought off gun men and lived a hedonistic champagne lifestyle many can only dream of.
Troubles – J. G. Farrell
If The Peaky Blinders stories of the IRA has left you wanting to find out more about the Irish Civil War and what would become know as ‘The Troubles’, then Farrell’s dark comedy, which centres on a once-grand Irish hotel that has fallen into disrepair is also a good historical account of the age-old rivalry between Irish Nationalists and English Colonials and how the fight has panned out over the years.
Hooligans – Chaz Fenwick
We’re bringing ultra-violence and gang warfare bang up to date with this selection, a violent, graphic, adrenaline rush of a novel following the Westside Gangstas. It’s missing the history but includes all the ultra-violence and gang warfare of The Peaky Blinders.
Our Story – Reg and Ron Kray
Before the death of Reginald and Ronald Kray, the 60s most feared twins the pair worked with Fred Dinenage to ‘set the story straight’. This honest and brutal account, straight from Britain’s most notorious gangsters is both an interesting look at the 1960s and the gang warfare that pervaded London.
The Gangs of New York – Herbert Asbury
Set at around the same time as The Peaky Blinders but in downtown Manhattan, The Gangs of New York is an informal history of the area, the time, and the legendary crime bosses and criminal gangs of the time.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Burgess’ dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange never goes out of fashion and if you’re a fan of the uber-violence in The Peaky Blinders then this may be for you. There’s no historical aspect, but it’s edge of your seat stuff and quite a ride.
Billy Bathgate – E. L. Doctorow
Billy Bathgate is a fictional work set in New York in the days of the Depression. The eponymous protagonist joins a notorious gang of a good luck charm and apprentice mobster, this is his story and while fictional it should satiate any history fan too.
Bright Young People – D.J Taylor
In The Peaky Blinders season two, we open in 1921 as the Birmingham Boys head to London and take in the clubs, the progressive music and the exclusive clubs. Bright Young People looks at this avante-garde lifestyle that shock a generation of people out of its post-war reverie.
Well that’s certainly added plenty to my TBR, and I’m hoping some of it proves as exciting, gritty and gripping as The Peaky Blinders has, even if I won’t have the delectable Cillian Murphy to drool over.
I hope this selection has also given you a little inspiration for your next read too.