Review published on September 16, 2017.
Freemasonry is a subject that divides a lot of people. Depending on who you ask, it is either a benign fraternal organisation that is often involved in much charitable work, an outlandish pastime where grown men roll up their trouser leg and perform silly rituals, or a sinister and secretive cult that fosters corruption and usurps democracy. Oftentimes people see it as a mixture of the three, its features encompassing the full scale depending on time, place, and individual member. There is certainly no shortage of books critical of Freemasonry. On the pulp-fiction end one has writers such as Dan Brown, who’s third novel in the Robert Langdon series features the Masons in the same way his more famous title, The Da Vinci Code, featured Opus Dei. On the non-fiction end there are authors such as Stephen Knight and Martin Short, both of whom published works that were extremely critical of Freemasonry. Concern over Freemasonry has on occasion been a matter of public debate, too. This has most often centred on Freemasonry in the police. For example, in 1999 the Labour Government attempted to implement a voluntary register of masonic police officers, but the measure failed as more than two-thirds of officers refused to respond. More recently, London mayor Sidique Khan has ruled out a register in the Met, saying such a measure would be illegal.
Mike Neville, the author of Crime and the Craft, is both a former Metropolitan Police Officer (retiring as a Detective Chief Inspector) and a Freemason. This is perhaps surprising when one first gets hold of this book as its full title reads Crime and the Craft: Masonic Involvement in Murder, Treason and Scandal. So is he ashamed of his Freemasonry? Is his book an expose of some grand conspiracy which proves the Craft’s critics right? Well, not exactly. The title isn’t so much misleading as broad brush. While it might imply that all the Masons mentioned within its pages are villains and gangsters, in actual fact many were on the side of the righteous. So, “Masonic involvement” might mean Masons as wrongdoers, but equally it might mean Masons as those enforcing the law, bringing villains to justice, or even as victims.
Masonry has certainly been widespread amongst the aristocracy, within government and the police, and so this book touches upon many of the more famous events of British political and legal history. From the English Civil War, through Jack the Ripper, to the bringing down of the Kray Twins, there are few events that haven’t been touched upon in some way by Freemasonry. Reflecting this, the author has penned a potted history, each chapter focusing on a different event, giving a general overview and detailing the Masonic link. This is no anti-Mason tract and the author is carefully fair and even handed. That isn’t to say that he glosses over or makes excuses for Freemasons who’ve done wrong. Quite the reverse in fact. For example, in the chapter on corruption in the Met’s vice squad in the 1970s, Neville is excoriating about the infamous Chief Superintendent Bill Moody, a keen Mason, and surely one of the most corrupt, dishonest and greedy officers ever to serve amongst the Met’s ranks. However, whereas Knight and Short have pointed to officers’ like Moody as evidence of the Mason’s intrinsic rottenness and capacity to corrupt, Neville points to other officers who helped bring Moody and others to justice who were themselves Masons. A good example of these is Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ron Stevenson (himself a Mason) who after helping to bring Moody to justice went onto head up A10, the Met’s internal affairs division. To be sure, Short mentions honest Mason’s in his own work, but Neville is much more even handed.
Crime and the Craft is a fascinating book that sheds light on British legal history while detailing a colourful cast of characters who were Freemasons. Like the wider population, some of these people were good, some were indifferent and some were wicked. The author stresses this throughout and his thesis is that Freemasonry is like any organisation, reflective of the wide gamut of human nature. While it is doubtful that this account will assuage the suspicions of the conspiracy theorists and Freemasonry’s various critics, Neville has produced a valuable and balanced addition to the literature on the subject.
James Pierson 5/5
Crime and the Craft: Masonic Involvement in Murder, Treason and Scandal by Mike Neville
Fonthill Media 9781781556214 pbk Jul 2017