JOHN LAWSON was a hard man, a tough, not one to mess with. His life of crime followed a difficult childhood, disruptions, failed relationships, and a series of mistakes — until he was in prison the third time, and he encountered Jesus.
Lawson recruited the services of John Sealey to write his life story in a book that, despite many elements that should be compelling, is a frustrating read.
Many “I busted blokes’ heads until the Lord turned me round” tales follow a similar pattern — there is almost a salaciousness in the detail given over to bad-boy activity — and this is no exception. There is plenty of detail in Lawson’s career— stand-over tactics, prostitution, violence, robbery, fraud, and a brush with what could have been murder. Even the cover apes much of the secular gangster-book-world imagery.
It should all be gripping stuff. But too often it falls down in repeated and overly long descriptions with clichéd expressions that never really lift the reader’s heart. There are screeds of dialogue, supposedly from various people in Lawson’s life, that are simply expository, impossibly detailed, and dubiously coming from the mouths of those who populate the narrative.
If a Wicked Man gives an impression of tedious low life with little or no imagination. Perhaps that is a fair assessment of how Lawson considers himself before conversion, but literature has a responsibility to use its form to engage.
There is an indication of the weight put to the new life in Jesus, as against the dark, dirty world that ruined his marriage, and yet the book does not really give mention to other women who suffered along the way. Fewer than 40 pages of the nearly 400-page book are given to his conversion, which, by his own account, was emotional, overwhelming, and life-changing.
It is a shame, then, that the reader does not find out how this new life — it is ten years since Lawson accepted Christ into his heart — is being worked out today. That, like the works of the famous sudden convert Paul, would be worth reading.
The Revd Kevin Scully is Rector of St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, in London.
If a Wicked Man
John Lawson with John Sealey
Roper Penberthy Publishing £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9