The first time I met Harold Challenor, he frisked me for weapons –
I was ten years old.
So begins Bent, the true story of Harold Challenor, SAS war hero – and, as a notorious Detective Sergeant in 1960’s London, the Scourge of Soho.
As an SAS operative, Challenor was parachuted behind enemy lines in Italy and France on secret missions, performing remarkable feats of bravery. Major Roy Farran once wrote that ‘with a few more Challenors, the war would have been over sooner.’
In 1960’s Soho, Challenor was a ferocious and controversial presence, mediating between factions of club owners and racketeers, cultivating informers – with methods that were morally questionable to say the least. Famously, the Kray Twins offered £1000 to anyone who would stitch him up and get him off the streets. They say Challenor once chased Reggie down Shaftesbury Avenue and all the way back to the east end.
Challenor was a war hero, a copper; a storyteller, a lover; a lunatic, and a whole lot more. Bent is the explosive story of Challenor’s rise and fall, of his experiences in Italy 1943, France 1944, and Soho in the early 1960’s – and through all of this, his struggle with a violent, traumatic childhood, and mental illness.
A virtuoso historical novel, Bent is exciting, socially conscious, thematically bold, and stylistically daring.
Praise for BENT:
‘Brilliant. Bent compellingly re-imagines a shocking true story of bravery and deception with all the manic energy and terrifying presence of its subject’ Jake Arnott, author of The Long Firm Trilogy
‘A wildly stylish and hugely entertaining read, Bent brings the worlds of sixties Soho and Nazi-occupied Italy thrillingly to life. It’s taut, evocative and laugh-out-loud funny – and, like its anti-hero, Challenor, slick, pacy and just crooked enough to keep you guessing, right up until its gut-punch of an ending’ Lucy Caldwell, winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize
‘Vivid, stylish, funny’ Mick Herron, author of the Jackson Lamb novels
‘From the cool spine of Italy to the burning heart of London, Bent merges war and peace as it shows how our traumatised heroes helped shape Britain in the decades following the Second World War. While the Sixties swing, one man’s need for order is undercut by a seething anger and some righteous violence. Written with love and respect, Bent is a snappy, thoughtful, moving novel’ John King, author of The Football Factory
‘Bent makes me remember Fridays bunking off work early, slipping and sliding on mashed fruit and veg through a deserted old Covent Garden, down to Berwick Street market to buy a few ex-jukebox 45’s for half a dollar each, then to the Nellie Dean for a couple of pints of Guinness, followed by a nap in Soho square gardens if the weather was clement. Shoot off home to change into something sharper, and back up for an all-nighter at the ‘mingo, all pilled up and glassy eyed. We were far from innocent, but they seemed like innocent times. Not bent at all. Happy days!’ Mark Timlin, author of the Sharman novels
‘Perhaps the most notorious copper of the post-War era, Harold 'Tanky' Challenor has taken many literary guises, his contradictory, charismatic presence and catchphrase 'You're nicked, me old beauty' muscling its way into work by Joe Orton and Jake Arnott. But no one has delved so deeply into what turned a Wartime hero of the SAS into a peacetime detective whose attempts to 'clean up Soho' led to igimony and the epithet most readily applied to him – Bent – until Joe Thomas braved his way into Tanky’s skull, effectively channeling Challenor in this vivid recreation of the events that forged and then destroyed his reputation. Utterly brilliant’ Cathi Unsworth, author of That Old Black Magic and Bad Penny Blues
‘Had James Ellroy and David Peace collaborated on a novel about a corrupt 1960s Soho copper, they’d have written something like this. Bent has left its Size 12 boot-prints across my memory’ Paul Willetts, author of Members Only, filmed as The Look of Love