Empire of Crime: The dark underbelly of the British Empire
Sometimes the best intentions can have the worst results. In 1905, British Liberal reformers radically reduced the export of Indian opium to China. As a result, the world price of opium soared to a new high and a century of high-earning drug smuggling began. The age of narcotics gang lords—which we still live in today—can be said to date from this decision.
Criminal producers in other countries, including Japan, exploited the prohibition and drug gang wars broke out across South-East Asia. It was the greatest gift to organised crime given by the well-meaning people of the British Empire—having the same effect on filling its coffers with money as the American Prohibition on alcohol did in the 1920s.
In the style of an Imperial McMafia, this book reveals the impact early organised crime had on Britons and Americans at home—the businessmen and celebrities who died from overdosing drugs supplied by Asian dealers—and the thousands of new addicts.
It introduces the reader to a whole new collection of crime-busting heroes, such as:
- Pioneering narcotics-investigator Major-General Russell Pasha, Commandant of the Cairo City police force and founder of the Central Narcotics Intelligence Bureau
- Harry J Anslinger, first chief of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics and relentless adversary of drug-smuggling from within the British Empire
- Tough Pashto-fluent North-West Frontier police chief Lt-Colonel Roos-Keppel, nemesis of Afghan criminal gangs.
Documents uncovered in archives for this book reveal some newsworthy stories:
- Newly uncovered documents show how Triad Chinese gangs in South-East Asia played off communists against nationalists as they forged an unholy alliance with the Allies in the Second World War.
- Secret government reports reveal how imperial administrators feared the impact of illicit drugs on imperial rule and how ‘loopholes’ were sought to ensure the trade of narcotics between colonies.
- Foreign Office letter of February 1957 pinpoints the beginning of Afghanistan becoming a major exporter of illicit opium and narcotics.
- Tabloid stories about early celebrity casualties of the new drugs culture.
Tim Newark is the author of several well-received crime and military history books. In 2007, he published The Mafia at War/Mafia Allies (Greenhill/Zenith), which involved extensive archival research in London, New York, Washington, and Sicily. It was very well reviewed by Mafia authorities and praised for its depth of research. This was followed by his myth-busting biography of legendary gangster Lucky Luciano (St Martin’s Press/Mainstream), now published in paperback in US as Boardwalk Gangster to coincide with the second season of the hit HBO TV series Boardwalk Empire.Most recentl...
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Ian Knight, author of Zulu Rising
"Gun-smuggling in the Afghan passes, banditry on the North-West Frontier, trans-sexual vice barons in Cairo, hashish-dens in Alexandria, shoot-outs between Sudanese policemen and Arab drug-smugglers around a desert oasis—this is a side of the British Empire that has seldom made the history books. Yet in their Imperial hey-day the British ruled vast and cosmopolitan possessions around the world, and the propensity for vice, corruption and crime was no less then than it is now—posing desperate challenges to the hitherto unsung heroes of Victorian and Edwardian crime prevention. Tim Newark's book is as fascinating and exciting as any crime novel, a truly gripping expose of a colonial underbelly that was as dark as any in history. "
" Tim Newark’s vivid account of the exploits of law enforcement agents during the British Empire is captivating. He brings to life these talented international policemen – the drug-busting cops of the day – superbly. Agatha Christie meets The Godfather! "
"Probing areas which historians have usually tactfully avoided, Newark has lifted the curtain on a hidden era of the British Empire."
"One of Britain’s leading historians."
"Snappy as Spillane, this book is packed with girls, guns and guts. The violent milieu explored by Newark is not South Side Chicago but the British Empire."
"Tim Newark wastes no time in tearing apart the man, the myth and the legend of Lucky Luciano."
" In tracing the explosion in illicit trade that followed, historian Tim Newark brings an incredible and almost entirely neglected story to life. Often sordid and shocking, the acts done in pursuit of drug profits in and amongst British colonies punch holes in clichés and myths about the Empire. Newark’s discoveries are more than quirks of history: this forgotten past is an important, deliberately concealed part of the narrative of Empire which deserves and demands analysis and discussion... Tim Newark’s fantastic book is dedicated to colonial policemen (like George Orwell) who “put their lives on the line, doing the right thing.” By the closing chapters, one realises just how true that is... Vast swathes of national and international history are dealt with masterfully here, and chapters are driven by chunks – not titbits, but real, meaty chunks – of important new material discovered by diligent, old-fashioned primary resource research. It’s history as it’s meant to be: clear, unpretentious, exciting, authoritative and enthusiastic. This is unquestionably one of my books of the year. "