The Lime Street Massacre

James Keagan
Booksurge, paperback, £10

Reviewed by Alex Hindley

Although I have been unable to find confirmation I am assuming that the stories here are roughly autobiographical. I justify this as follows: the main character shares the name ‘James’ with the author, the whole thing is from a first-person point of view, set in real locations and family circumstances, and characters are continuous across all stories.

For the first few chapters of this book I was optimistic. Short stories telling of a child growing up in 60s Liverpool, drawing a mostly successful comparison between the anecdotes and characters of a dysfunctional childhood and the best known agents and events of World War Two. Certainly his father is the ideal dictator: charming enough to draw people in, ruthless and controlling once he has them where he wants them. The child, his siblings and his mother are cast either as unwilling but indoctrinated accomplices or prisoners of the regime. The various mistresses evoke the name ‘Eva Braun’. The analogy felt a little stretched at times, but this was forgivable compared to what came next.

Into the 70s, and the child is becoming a man. Not just any man, he’s becoming his father. It’s never clear whether the writer is aware of the irony, or whether he wishes to demonstrate how violence begets violence. What is clear is that he likes to tell violent stories. Suddenly I’m reading Irvine Welsh without the wit and raucous eloquence, J.D. Salinger without the insight. After one hundred or so pages of very ordinary prose and extraordinarily thoughtless acts of random aggression I’m still not sure why he feels the need to tell anyone. I do have a sneaking suspicion that we’re expected to be impressed.

Throughout all of this, Liverpool is partly blamed for the creation of this monster. Sweeping statements such as ‘Liverpool is no place for an aspiring journalist’ or ‘the head-butt is considered an art form in Liverpool’ leave the reader picturing some kind of culturally barren ghetto where nothing of any worth can grow. Granted, Liverpool has experienced poverty, and criminality is the basis for our regional stereotype, but Keagan’s Liverpool has literally no other characteristics. Not one solitary redeeming feature.

As you've probably guessed I wouldn't recommend it, but sadly there is always a market for anything containing pointless violence, especially in the U.S. where this book is published. I dread to think what impression those unfamiliar with Liverpudlian culture will gain.

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Comment left by James Keagan on 17th June, 2007 at 18:21
My Darling Alex, Go to the kitchen and make yourself a cup of tea or pour yourself a brandy. Coz you're going to need it. I don't know what you're best at but we'll find out. Just caught the review of my book The Lime Street Massacre and found how fascinating that you only observed the periphery of the stories, ie violence. You didn't even mention (or did you even notice) that it was dedicated to Anthony Walker. You didn't notice that it's not about violence but it's about how violence begets violence. It's about how social and geographical backgrounds can change a nice boy into a monster. Strange how you saw through this with Irvin Walsh's work, yet not mine. Don't tell me, you're doing heroin. I've just finished reading The Gangs of Liverpool by Michael Macilwee, desribed as a "riveting journey into the dark and compelling history of England's toughest city." The last time I visited Liverpool, the police were adorned with submachine guns. This is the sad underbelly of the "City of Culture," you are trying to protect. Where do you go home to, Cheshire or something? It's called real life, wake up. Now go back to the kitchen and wash the dishes, something I feel you're good at. Always, James Keagan

Comment left by Jane Mitchell on 17th June, 2007 at 18:50
Dear Ms. Hindley, I don't presume to know your education or qualifications for reviewing fiction. Unlike you, I don't "assume" things as you did about the nature of Mr. Keagan's fiction. Fiction being the operative word, here. Also, we Americans, whom you label as loving pointless violence (of course, no one in your country does this, I'm sure) also have a saying about assuming: that it makes an ass out of me and YOU. I have read Mr. Keagan's book and got the jist of it in a New York minute. In fiction, a moral message is not required. Didactic fiction went out with Horatio Alger. The character here is what he is because of the contributing factors of environment, family and his own choices as well. Perhaps you haven't read enough modern fiction to realize that literary characters aren't required to be Sunday school teachers. James Joyce, perhaps you have heard of him, was equally scorned in Dublin and throughout Ireland after publishing Dubliners and practically exiled for Ulysses. I am also a writer and librarian. I have read literally thousands of book reviews and even written some. So, I believe that qualifies me to recognize a biased, poorly written and thoroughly ignorant review when I read one. Don't look now, but it's yours. You did as complete an annilation of this brilliant book as someone named Myra Hindley did to her victims. Relation of yours, perhaps? Do take time to read some contemporary fiction before you attempt to review any more. You embarrass yourself with your stupidity. Any discerning reader can buy James Keagan's The Lime Street Massacre: Short Stories of Fascism in Liverpool and its Profound Affects upon the United States by visiting the website Please type this into the address bar. With all honesty and sincerity, Jane Mitchell

Comment left by Charlie Armitage on 18th June, 2007 at 18:21
Well i've read it and thought it was bloody great !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Comment left by Bob Dublin on 19th June, 2007 at 6:33
Loved the book. Very funny, yet darkly sad.Wished there was more

Comment left by David Young on 19th June, 2007 at 12:27
Hello there. Mr Keagan and his Mum/Girlfriend need to remember that when a person submits their work to the public, the public will read it – if they wish – and following this endeavour, will form an opinion. Strangely, on some occasions, we will not all agree with each other, and stranger still we may decide to express our thought on the subject with others. When said view has been expressed, we can expect a certain level of disagreement or argument. What we don’t expect however, is ignorant and sickening comments about one of the most horrific things ever to have taken place on British soil. I feel humiliated for you. A sad subject like this, which is still causing grief among some families, should not be thrown casually in into conversation to try to make an ill thought out point about a book that wasn't even that good anyway. For Gods sake people, grow up! Lots of love, Cheshire Based Violence Loving Dish Washer P.S. Isn’t it a bit sad to publicly retaliate to a review of your own work?

Comment left by Kevin Keegan on 19th June, 2007 at 18:11
David is spot on. You are LOW, James. Your words on this page damn you far more than Alex's review. And Liverpool may be bad, but Liverpool > you.

Comment left by Hana Leaper on 19th June, 2007 at 20:11
I read as much of the book as I could justify and thought it was mediocre. This is my opinion and I'm entitled to it, without my assumed socio-political beliefs and standing being mocked and/or my opinions being compared to that of a mass murderer's. Amusing, isn't it, that the 'author' left his petulant, petty, badly written and much misguided comment in character? I feel (you note “I feel”, as in, my opinion; write what you like, but the way “I feel” cannot be wrong – no matter what letters are in my postcode – or even more obtusely, whether or not I'm good at washing dishes) that his response neatly vindicated Ms Hindley's opinion of his work. What is not in the slightest bit amusing are the comments left by Jane Mitchell: “You did as complete an annilation [sic] of this brilliant book as someone named Myra Hindley did to her victims. Relation of yours, perhaps?” This self-professed literary expert's sickening attempt to compare the reception of one man's book with the level of damage inflicted upon those children and their families – damage which evidently reverberates throughout the world – in order to make a personal attack upon the fairly objective reviewer due to her family name, shows her to be an ignorant, obnoxious and thoroughly reprehensible excuse for a librarian/writer and human being. As for James Keagan drawing attention to the fact he dedicated a book some readers feel glorifies violence, to the victim of an axe-attack – I can't fathom how that's appropriate - maybe he would care to explain? And yes, I'm VERY good at jumping, before you start cracking the 'funnies'. (I don't think there are any infamous criminals who share my family name - but I'm sure with Ms Mitchell's literary prowess and library access, it shouldn't take her long to retaliate with some gutter-dredged slur).

Comment left by Alex Hindley on 19th June, 2007 at 22:20
I won't repeat what others have already expressed so well but I'd like anyone who is still following this saga to know what impact James and pals have had. Whatever my qualifications I was asked for my opinion. I gave it honestly and without any hidden agenda. Nothing that has been said has changed my thoughts on the work itself, and aside from any possible misunderstandings about my attitude towards Americans I am utterly unrepentant. Now I'm off to post a review on amazon and then wash my dishes - I refuse to mistake a day-to-day necessity for a degradation.

Comment left by darren guy on 27th June, 2007 at 23:44
I've not read the book - but read a short extract on the internet. But like any form of 'art work', if people have to explain, as Mr Keegan has done, in his response to Alex's review, then the viewer isn't really getting it. If it aint within the pages, then its no good saying 'it really meant this, or that' This is a common problem amongst writers, what's inside their head and what their intention is, is not always transferred to the head of the reader, viewer etc. And this is were the labour of art comes in and the skill and the grafting - the point is,is to paint something inside the readers head. Not everyone gets that picture, sometimes no-one gets it - and often what's left is just words on a page. As i said I haven't read the book - but nerve takes pride on the fact that we encorage all those who write to write how they see it. And review how they see it. if the artists, or writers or whoever don't want bad reviews - then don't show anyone your work, or surrounded yourself with people who either don't tell you the truth or who don't know what they are talking about. Any writer has to learn to take it on the chin and get up again. Well done Alex for saying how you saw it.

Comment left by Steve O\'Hare on 29th June, 2007 at 14:49
After reading Mr.Keagan's book I was left with a feeling of mixed emotions. Does it have the wit and raucous eloquence of Irvine Welsh? No. Nor does it have the insight of J.D. Salinger. I can't put a finger on what it is that this offering does have, but it does have something. For what I believe to be a first time effort, I thought Mr. Keagan did capture the tone of what it was like to grow up in Liverpool in the 60's and 70's as I did. I now live in the U.S. but was back in Liverpool last month for a few days. There is no doubt that the city has had a renaissance over the past ten years or so as evidenced by the booming housing market. The City of Culture for 2008 will do much to raise the profile of the city in Europe and perhaps even globally. But Liverpool's history will always be there as the famous Kop likes to remind every Chelsea fan that visits the city. And like it or not, part of that history in this reviewer's opinion, was captures marvellously in Kr. Keagan's raw, biting, nerve tingling and unpretentious prose that set out to tell it how it was, and in many parts of the city,still is. It is very easy to write romantically about Liverpool and its history. It's a lot harder to write about those things that many would prefer to brush under the carpet and be forgotten. I would encourage Mr. Keagan to hone his craft, and develop his style in his own inimitable way. I look forward to his next effort.

Comment left by tovorinok on 5th July, 2007 at 6:49
Hi all! Great book. I just want to say what a fantastic thing you are doing! Good luck! G'night

Comment left by Richie Buxton on 2nd October, 2007 at 12:41
Having had the pleasure of reading exerts from Mr Keagan's publication, he gives an eyewitness view of what life was like for him growing up in the city. Granted it's not the romanticised tale of a loveable rogue turning over Adidas boutiques in Austria in pursuit of a pair of Grand Slams inbetween bunking on trains and into football stadia across the continent to follow his club but Keagan doesn't hold back on any details. He's saying what he saw and was a part of and that is something that people have to remember. Similarly with the recently released anthology of Liverpool's European Cup finals (Here We Go Gathering Cups In May), the authors haven't held back on anything featured and that is something that needs to be commended. Keep up the good work Jay.

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