There was little to go on when I read the press release for Janet Roger‘s ‘golden-age crime’ novel, Shamus Dust; but instinct told me to give it a whirl. And I’m glad I did.
It no doubt helps that as I was settling into the book, the weather took a seasonal dip in temperature, aiding my journey back to a freezing 1940s winter in a heavily blitzed post-war London.
The premise of the book is a hard-nosed American detective with a hard-boiled mystery to solve, following in the style of classic noir thrillers of Chandler and Hammett.
It’s Christmastime 1947, in the City of London’s square mile of high finance. A seeming vice killing spooks a City councilor into hiring Newman, an expatriate American shamus, to keep his name out of a murder. Newman’s private inquiries split two different ways. One takes him to the rackets, to the police murder investigation, and to the City’s own grandees. The second takes him into the ruins left behind by the blitz, to make sense of what he’s finding out about his own client.
In a square mile where money interests hold all the aces, Louis the hotel barber is his sage: Choices you make, Mr. Newman, are not such a complicated thing…
Now, I will be the first to admit that I have Raymond Chandler’s books on my shelves, but I haven’t as yet read them. So I am only familiar with the genre in film format (sorry!). But before you dip the brim of your fedora hat and point that revolver at my face, I do know enough about the crime genre to know what makes a good novel.
It did take me a few chapters to get into the rhythm of the book and feel intrigued enough by the developing plot to enjoy it. Some of the stylised writing initially felt a tad forced. But once the characters and the plot began to unfold, I really didn’t notice it anymore.
By the time I was two-thirds of the way through the book, I was racing to the end. Which is probably a good sign. The plot has the right combination of shady and mysterious characters, little twists and dangerous elements to keep you intrigued, and the places are described in just the right amount of detail so that you sink right into the heart of the story.
What I found most enjoyable was that you couldn’t predict every death and it wasn’t obvious from the outset who the culprit was, or the reason why.
If you know a crime fan who loves a good murderous winter tale to read by the fireside, then this book will make a good last minute Christmas present!
Shamus Dust is published by Matador and is out now (priced £11.99).