Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Review - DON'T CALL ME A CROOK! - Bob Moore

Publisher: Dissident Books
Published: 2009

DON'T CALL ME A CROOK! A Scotsman's Tale of World Travel, Whisky and Crime was originally published in 1935 and, apparently, very few copies exist today. Fortunately, Nick Towasser of Dissident Books (a wonderful independent publisher who offer "independent visions and accounts to those who have grown tired of adult lullabies.") discovered the book and decided that it begged to be read by a new generation. And I'm very glad he did.

"It is a pity there are getting to be so many places that I can never go back to, but all the same, I do not think it is much fun a man being respectable all his life."

So begins the autobiography of Glaswegian Bob Moore - sailor, adventurer, engineer, world traveller. He's also racist, sexist, violent and, more often than not, pickled in alcohol. Breaker of almost every law imaginable, he's also a thoroughly charming rapscallion. He keeps telling us he's not a crook, and you almost believe him. He doesn't steal things - he borrows things and just doesn't return them. And besides, usually it's the owner's fault he doesn't give them back - they should have been more careful shouldn't they? He also has a callous disregard for human life, sometimes breathtakingly so.

Moore travels the world in the 1920s and 30s - America, South America, Europe, China - partly because he has a real sense of adventure and seems to revel in danger - but partly because towns, cities, countries and even whole continents often end up a little hot for him because he's...well, let's face it...he is a crook. His story often reads like a work of fiction - Moore crammed so much into the relatively short part of his life he is recounting, and it's hard to believe that any one person could have had quite so many adventures, or survived being shot at by bandits, being shipwrecked three times, evading numerous angry females, and drinking enough alcohol to destroy several livers. He could cause trouble in an empty house, but is endearingly shocked when it happens.

Bob Moore is a mass of contradictions. He's sociopathic in his lack of emotion and doesn't seem to care much for anyone at all, yet he can be extraordinarily brave at times. He packs his new wife and child back off home to Scotland when they start cramping his style and never seems to think of them again, yet he puts himself in mortal danger to help almost complete strangers. He's horrendously racist at times, and the most hideous crimes are talked about with a shrug, yet he shows touching moments of real empathy. He swings between being in the lap of luxury, to the direst of straits with the same good humour. In person, I think he would be insufferable; as a character he's hugely entertaining.

Despite his insistence that he's not a crook, he's actually very honest about the things he does - although we are always treated to his own quirky spin. Open any page and you will find his justifications for his actions. Here's one where he has taken up with a married woman and she stupidly reveals to him that she keeps a drawer full of cash. Having managed to arrange some alone time in the same room as the drawer, Bob manages to relieve it of the cash. Then what does he do? He takes his lady friend away to spend the money:

"She thought I was taking her for a holiday on my money, and that will show you what a funny woman she was. For why should I have taken her for a holiday with my money, when she was not really young anymore and she had a house where I could go without spending any money at all? But I think really I was not so bad taking her for that holiday because after all I need not have taken her at all, but I could have gone away and spent all that money on myself. But instead I took her to London and we stayed at a smart hotel. And as she was a woman who liked to go to smart places we went to all the restaurants and night clubs that generally you only read about in the newspapers, so you cannot say that I did not do my best to give her a good time. I did my best to give her a good time so much that sometimes in the morning I would be feeling quite faint with fatigue, and I would not be fit for anything until I had been massaged on my temples and over the heart with a electro-vibrant machine that she had to send away her wrinkles. Only I think it was more use for reviving me in the morning really."

Moore tells his story a little like an enthusiastic puppy. He's not the world's most accomplished writer, and you don't get to know many of the other characters very well, but his glee and enthusiasm is infectious as he says "Wait until I tell you what happened next". His conversational style is perfect for the book. There is no social or political commentary, no philosophising, but we see history through Moore's eyes - from the speakeasies and high society orgies of 1920s America, to the callous everyday cruelty of life along the Yangtze Kiang.

Bob Moore wouldn't know a scruple if it jumped up and bit him, but he knows how to spin a great yarn. Love it - thank you, Dissident Books, for this delicious slice of swashbuckling adventure with a great dollop of fun.


  1. I had a great time with that book. The entire opening page is a real grabber.

  2. Isn't it just?! "I can't go back here because of the money that went missing, I can't go back there because of the man that got killed (but it wasn't necessarily me), and I can't go back to the third place because of the diamonds" - paraphrased, of course, but it's brilliant stuff!