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What a caper!

by Nicholas Searle

Oh, the Hatton Garden safe deposit heist. Didn’t we giggle? The bus pass to get to the job. The infirm pensioner carrying his diabetic kit in to the vault. The stout old codger on lookout duty with his mutt. The ancient geezers trying to squeeze themselves through the narrow hole they’d drilled, presumably trying to avoid their colostomy bags getting snagged on the way through. The sheer British improvised incompetence of it all. Rather like an Ealing comedy transported to the twenty-first century. Not quite a slick Ocean’s Eleven with zimmer frames. Just a bit of harmless fun. A lark.

The first person I thought of when I saw the news coverage was Roy from The Good Liar. I was a little surprised when his name didn’t appear on the charge sheet. Roy is a character who came to life for me while I was writing the book. He was based on someone I’d met – but that’s a different story – and as I wrote him, and we both put greater distance Roy between him and the real man, the more I found out about him. The fictional Roy is an inveterate liar and a serial con-man, a fixer, a criminal, always with an eye on the big prize, often not quite making it.

The Good Liar by Nicholas SearleBut Roy is a fiction, I kept having to tell myself as the novel took shape, and needed to be kept in check, just this side of believability. He was a slippery blighter and constantly striving, in his quest for the big lie and the big payday, to burst out of the limits I’d set him. Credibility was a big issue.

No longer, however. We have the Hatton Garden Mob to entertain us and to show us just how believable Roy actually is. If you’ve read The Good Liar you can probably imagine these boys down the pub with Roy and his team, swilling pints and whisky chasers, smoking their fat cigars, flashing their bling watches, draining their bladders through constricted prostates every so often in the khazi (‘bleeding the lizard’ Roy’s mate Bernie would no doubt call it with customary delicacy), and together planning the next bank raid.

All good dishonest fun. Maybe. The victims aren’t really victims. Self-indulgent genteel old ladies with cast-iron investments. Safe depositors with secret stashes of diamonds trying to dodge the taxman. Both with more money than sense. Maybe.

But life isn’t like that, and nor could the book be. There isn’t such a thing as a victimless crime. Suffering happens. People’s life savings disappear. Businesses crumble. Futures are ruined.

Delving back, we find the Hatton Street Mob to be quite different from the frail old men with chutzpah enjoying a last hurrah, just as Roy is not simply an endearing old card enjoying a last roll of the dice. We see the violence they have perpetrated, the people they have harmed, the innocents they have killed. We understand their vicious natures.

We do love a wide boy, though. We revel vicariously in his escapades and applaud his coups de théâtre. The people who suffer at his hands are forgotten and live quietly in the dark – if they are lucky enough to survive. There is a difficulty: how do we reconcile our guilty pleasure with our consciences? How better than for the geriatric thief or con-man to receive his come-uppance? At least in the real world a measure of justice came about for the Hatton Garden Four, whose exploits would have strained the credulity of this fiction writer beyond breaking point, and most likely that of the fiction reader too. But what about the good liar Roy? What becomes of him? The answer’s in the book.

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