70. City of Spades, Colin MacInnes (1957)

The first and, for me, the best of Colin MacInnes’s ‘London novels’, City of Spades is a pungent depiction of the city’s criminal and sexual underworld, set in pubs, boarding houses, brothels and so on. I don’t know why it’s not more highly regarded, as it’s one of the first novels I can think of that tackles racism and homosexuality in such an in-your-face way. Perhaps the way he writes about black characters makes people nervous. Johnny Fortune, the Nigerian narrator, is by no means heroic, but he’s incredibly magnetic, and MacInnes does a great job of showing the secondary characters fluttering and twitching in his orbit. Alfy Bongo, the ‘little queer boy’ who becomes Johnny’s unlikely guardian angel, is particularly compelling. I must read Tony Gould’s biog of MacInnes, who sounds like an absolute monster.

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