British actor Arnott debuts with an extraordinarily rich thriller, a character study based on gangster life in 1960s London. Raw and often disturbingly detailed, the story is a piercing examination of the life of Harry Starks, an unforgettable villain who controls the rackets in the West End through menace, brutality and his own particular brand of tough love. Each of the book's five sections explores a different character's often harrowing episodes with Starks. Terry, a club-hopping pretty boy, is kept as a lover, slave and assistant by Starks, but when Terry gets uppity, Starks strikes. Teddy Thursby is a drunken, financially ruined member of the House of Commons whose homosexuality becomes a chip in one of Starks's high-stakes blackmail schemes. Jack the Hat is a pill-popping thug used by Starks for the dirtiest of jobs, while another employee, fading starlet Ruby Ryder, is kept in charge of Starks's pornography ring. Lenny, a university sociologist who befriends Starks, winds up in a gangster shootout, as murderously hot-blooded as his kingpin pal. Readers familiar with the saga of the Kray brothers will recognize the milieu. Some brief scenes of torture and wanton violence require a strong stomach, and yet there are many tender moments that show Starks's humaneness and vulnerability. A leader loyal to his friends and a softie for a pretty face, he's nonetheless an iron-willed disciplinarian when he's been betrayed. He's also a man of considerable intellectual depth who can discuss complex philosophy with clarity and simplicity. Starks's many associates are as original and fully developed as he is. They all populate a story of remarkable originality that stretches far beyond the conventional crime drama in both style and substance. Agent, Gelfman-Schneider. 25,000 first printing. (Sept.) FYI: The Long Firm will be a five-part BBC miniseries.