Book review by Richard Whitehead, formerly of The Times
I first came across Stephen Pennell's writing years ago in the Aston Villa fanzine Heroes and Villains and admired his work then - now he has truly delivered on that potential. Gangsters, Geezers and Mods is a slice of tough working-class Brummie life rooted in a love of the Villa, but also with a devotion to Mod culture and a great deal of crime - some shockingly violent and murderous, some reminiscent of Dickens’ Artful Dodger. It is a gritty account of friendship, love, betrayal and revenge, but among those sweeping themes there is an attention to minute detail that engages and absorbs the reader. Starting with a touching tribute to his parents, the protagonist tells the story of his life and loves with wit and honesty, dwelling on his various obsessions with a tinge of nostalgia that will resonate with many.
As the narrative evolves into a pacy and suspenseful crime thriller, relationships between the characters are explained in such a way that the consequences seem perfectly natural - inevitable even - and unlikely alliances make just as much sense. In a moral vacuum of inner-city depravity, one fable battles against the odds to triumph - true friendship will overcome football rivalry and racial differences and transcend them all. This book is a remarkable alliance of fiction and memoir, done so skilfully that you are left wondering exactly what is true and what isn't. Having checked with Steve, I have discovered that much of it is true - he's certainly had a livelier life than me!
Gangsters, Geezers and Mods is highly recommended for lovers of the second city, the Villa, Paul Weller - and anyone who just likes a really well-written book - the best thing to come out of Birmingham since Jack Grealish.