City of Gangs: Glasgow and the Rise of the British Gangster
In the 1920s and 1930s, Glasgow was so riddled with gangs that it was known as “the Scottish Chicago”. Shipbuilding and heavy industry had made the city overcrowded; their decline left it underemployed. Add in sectarian divisions and the conditions were perfect for gangs such as the (Catholic) Savoy Arcadians and the (Protestant) Billy Boys to thrive. Andrew Davies’s book is an account not just of the fear they brought to the streets of Glasgow, but the role of the press in fostering underworld myths and the efforts of the police to control the spread of violence and protection rackets.
Hodder & Stoughton, 464pp, £20
In “Mid-Winter Waking”, Robert Graves writes: “Stirring suddenly from long hibernation,/I knew myself once more a poet/Guarded by timeless principalities . . .” For many modern readers, Graves’s poetry has hibernated beneath his Claudius novels and his memoir, Goodbye to All That. Michael Longley’s selection of his verse – a primer to the Complete Poems – is a reminder that he was not only a friend of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen but a war poet of power and anger, too. After 1918, his many poems about love were also couched in uncompromising terms, and the mythology he expounded in The White Goddess (1948) gives them an extra flavour.
Faber & Faber, 160pp, £15.99
Crown of Thistles: the Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Stuart’s “fatal inheritance” was the long-standing power struggle between the English and Scottish royal families. Her fatal tussle with her cousin Elizabeth I was just one stage in a battle for supremacy that had started with their grandfathers and would not be resolved until Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England. Mary’s life was rich in incident and Linda Porter recounts it with judiciousness and verve.
Macmillan, 424pp, £20