Jonathan Cape 12.99 (296pp) 11.69(free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Skinheads, by John King

A working-class hero pulls his punches

"The Nineties had belonged to the children of the hippies, drugged-up flower-power babies charging top dollar for peace and love. The offspring of the skins and punks and football hooligans were claiming the new century." At a time when "white English working-class culture" or a reductive, demeaning interpretation thereof is under the media microscope, any novelist who can enlighten the rest of the world as to the realities behind the smug generalisations of both left and right should not only be treasured, but heeded.

Once it may have been sufficient to describe John King as "the nation's finest writer of football fiction", but he long since transcended this classification. King's achievement since his debut has been enormous: creating a modern, proletarian English literature at once genuinely modern, genuinely proletarian, genuinely English and genuinely literature. His novels immerse his readers in the stream of consciousness of people who, as routinely depicted in the media, barely have consciousness at all.

However, with Skinheads, his seventh novel, the subtext is in danger of becoming the text. It seems to have been written specifically to render explicit what was left implicit in his earlier works. It is a gentler, easier read than its predecessors, but easier isn't always better.

In England Away, the final volume in the "football trilogy" which began with The Football Factory and continued in Headhunters, King was able to generate enormous poignancy, by juxtaposing the reminiscences of an old soldier preparing to attend a reunion of his regiment with the roistering "two World Wars, one World Cup" braggadocio of a bunch of hoolies introduced in his previous novels. Here,, by comparison, the symbolism is clunky. "Estuary Cars" is a skinhead-run minicab firm which has been ferrying King's characters around throughout the loosely-knit saga. Here it cruises into the spotlight, the narrative focusing on a triad of protagonists associated with the company.

The firm's patriarch, Terry English (one devoutly wishes that the author had resisted the temptation to subtitle the opening section "Estuary English"), is a veteran skinhead knocking 50. He is mourning his dead wife, attempting to keep his semi-reformed-hoolie nephew Nutty Ray gainfully employed and out of trouble, and worrying that his 15-year-old son Laurel (aka "Lol") is developing hippie tendencies. Plagued both, by persistent ill-health and a crush on a younger employee, Terry dreams of reopening a derelict club called The Union Jack as an inclusive shrine to a primal version of skinhead culture unbesmirched, by association with far-right racists. The author's message could not be clearer if the "author's message" were watermarked on to every page.

Even hoolie Ray, who did extensive reading while in nick, articulates a persuasive strain of left patriotism which stretches from George Orwell to Billy Bragg. The author's patented ease with the greater and lesser arcana of pop culture is once again in evidence (ska, blue-beat, 2-Tone and Oi being the dishes of the day). But even some of the prose "Ray turned the engine off, unrolling his six-foot-four frame, the hyenas in the Nissan suddenly silent as seventeen stone of skinhead muscle marched their way" uncomfortably evokes a literate, left-wing version of a Richard Allen pulp novel.

The ace street-fighter of contemporary English fiction seems to be telegraphing his punches rather too obviously. This, as any of his characters could have told him, is not necessarily a winning strategy in a real ruck.

Charles Shaar Murray's 'Crosstown Traffic' is published, by Faber

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?