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The XYY Man

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The Concrete Boot
Mayflower, London, 1977
(first published
Hodder & Stoughton, 1971)
price: 60p; 192 pages

dedication: For Stella

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The Miniatures Frame
Mayflower, London, 1977
(first published
Hodder & Stoughton, 1972)
price: 60p; 188 pages

dedication: For Robin and his merry men (and women)

The blurb on the back:

The Concrete Boot:
The creeper who can't go straight.
Reisen wants a favour from reformed break-in specialist Spider Scott, and the sadistic underworld boss has a forceful way of asking for favours. Add the lure of twenty thousand quid and an enticing lady, plus as much danger as he can handle, and the rogue chromosome in the XYY Man's genetic make-up that makes him a natural criminal starts itching like crazy.
That itch plunges Spider into a whirlpool of smuggling, political intrigue and assassination - and elads him to a dawn appointment with the murky waters of the River Thames, his feet stuck solid in the ingenious anti-swimming device Reisen and his friends call The Concrete Boot...

The Miniatures Frame:
The XYY Man can't believe his eyes when he sees the two priceless miniatures set high on the wall. Because Spider Scott nicked them himself a few years ago - and they've never been returned to their rightful owner.
It's an embarrassing situation. For the new 'owner' is Peter Thresher, well-respected head of a Royal Commission on Prison Reform, and Spider is his guest. But then Thresher turns out to be a character who is not above some nasty blackmail - or a spot of rape. And when, inevitably, the XYY Man's criminal genes get going and he jumps headlong into danger, he soon finds that the miniatures aren't the only thing that Thresher has framed...

opening lines:

The Concrete Boot:
Ossie Jenkins came floating to the swollen surface of the Thames like a bloated crocodile, distended belly uppermost.

The Miniatures Frame:
It caused something of a sensation at the time: enough, anyway, for plenty of press and television comment.

Genetics ain't really my field but as I understand it, the chromosome composition for women is X-X, while that for men is X-Y. At least, that's the norm. But there are variations: around one person in a thousand has an extra chromosome, X-X-X for women and X-Y-Y for men. And it is believed that the chromosomal variation in men might manifest in a slightly increased incidence of aggressive behaviour.

That, as far as I know (and obviously I've done bugger-all research), is the scientific position: the extra Y chromosome may enhance a disposition to aggression. But in the late-1960s a populist theory developed that it was linked to criminality, might even be the cause of criminality.

Now obviously you and I are both perfectly aware that criminal behaviour is an artificial construct, varying in the context of era and society, and that therefore to claim that it can in any way be inherent is complete bollocks. But there were some dumb people around in the '60s, and their arguments seemed to have found some justification when American mass-murderer Richard Speck claimed in his defence that, since he had been born with an X-Y-Y chromosomal make-up, he was somehow predestined to kill eight student nurses. It was an ingenious defence but it floundered on two key issues: (1) there's no evidence that the X-Y-Y combination leads directly to criminal behaviour, and (2) it wasn't even true in his case - he had your bog-standard X-Y chromosomes.

Although it was completely irrelevant, the Speck defence helped popularise the XYY theory of deviancy, and for a while the whole nonsense hung around like a bad smell, before gradually fading away. (Though shockingly it was revived as recently as 1992 with the movie Alien³.) Whilst it was still in the air, Kenneth Royce nicked the concept as the basis for his series of novels The XYY Man.

The (anti-)hero of the books was William 'Spider' Scott, a man with just this chromosomal variation and thereby a 'natural criminal'. He's a creeper (a cat-burglar) who gets recruited by British Intelligence, but who also can't resist his destiny and finds himself working for shady underworld types on a regular basis.

I know it doesn't sound very attractive as a proposition - and the absurdities of the pseudo-science are guaranteed to grate - but actually these are pretty decent books. The chromosome thing is scarcely relevant, and instead we get a seedy loner not dissimilar to Callan in his world-wearied desire to be out of the game, but kept in by external forces. I don't normally rate books set in either the intelligence world or organized crime, so it's something of a pleasure to be able to say that I quite enjoyed these.

The better of them is probably The Miniatures Frame, which features Spider Scott being recruited to serve on a Royal Commission to investigate prison reform. But both are strong pieces, spoiled only by the way that bits of criminal terminology are footnoted: I mean, if you don't know that the term 'Old Bill' refers to the police, you probably shouldn't be reading 1970s British crime fiction.

These editions tie in with the making of a TV series by Granada starring Stephen Yardley, later to play Ken Masters in Howards' Way. To be honest, my memory of the series is very vague, so I can't really comment, but it continues to enjoy a good reputation.

your move, chummy
Stephen Yardley as Spider Scott

  Just in case you give a toss, Speck was found guilty and sentenced to death, but escaped when the death penalty was abandoned in America. Instead he was given 400 years in jail and died in 1991, having failed to complete his sentence.


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t.v. spin-offs