shortlisted for book of the month
"Two candles flaring at a Christmas crib. A nurse who steps inside a church to light them. A gunshot emptied in a man’s head in the creaking stillness before dawn, that the nurse says she didn’t hear. It’s 1947 in the snowbound, war-scarred City of London, where Pandora’s Box just got opened in the ruins, City Police has a vice killing on its hands, and a spooked councilor hires a shamus to help spare his blushes. Like the Buddha says, everything is connected. So it all can be explained. But that’s a little cryptic when you happen to be the shamus, and you’re standing over a corpse."
Think Phillip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Dick Barton... It is 1947. It is Christmas and it is snowing. London is still bombed-out and there is a murdered body in a church, and a rather murky background to its previously alive owner. No spoilers; I'll say no more about the plot.
Private Investigator Newman is an American living and working in London. He narrates the story with dry wit and a smooth sophistication. And for once in an American-style historical-based novel set in England the Americanisms didn't jar because we see and hear everything through Newman himself as he saunters along a sidewalk not a pavement, uses the subway not the tube/underground. We hear his American accent and American ways very clearly through Ms Roger's clever use of words. And every word that Newman relates to us is relevant.
The research is impeccable, the cold, dark rubble of a snow-covered post-Blitz freezing London so real you'll find yourself shivering with the cold and reaching for a blanket.
Although long and definitely not a fast-paced gallop of a read, this is a novel that ticks the boxes for a 'who-dun-it'. It has dialogue that is witty, and the essential elements of a Private Investigator thriller: political intrigue, dark shadows, unexpected twists and turns, murders, bodies, suspects. Glamorous women, goodies, baddies, lies, secrets, sordid blackmail, greed, corruption all held together by a dogged PI who won't give up or go away. No matter what is thrown at him.
We are immediately interested in the protagonist as a character, even though we never discover his first name - we know bits about him, but not all about him. Which adds to the atmosphere of mystery that the author has created.
It is not a page-turner action/adventure read: it is the methodical plod of Columbo rather than the haring about, skidding cars and non-stop energy of The Professionals or Starsky and Hutch (OK I'm showing my age!). Nor is it a sit before the fire to while away a wet afternoon read. It is an ongoing amble, not a sprint. Explore each chapter with attention to detail; each scene needs to be mulled over and digested because you will not know, until the end, which are the snakes to slide down or the ladders to climb up where clues are concerned. We, as the reader, have to unravel the tangle to get to the result - just as Mr Newman does.
My main criticism is that I think the cover could have been more appealing/eye-catching. With the majority of books bought online with only a thumbnail to view, this particular cover doesn't immediately spring out as 'Oh, this looks interesting,' nor does it convey the 'identity' of the novel. It could be a romance or even non-fiction - yes the text mentions murder, but that will not be seen clearly at a smaller online size. The saying 'You can't judge a book by its cover' is not necessarily accurate regarding the text inside, but it is very accurate where 'grab potential readers' attention is concerned. So alas, this cover gets a thumbs down from me.
That said, in my opinion, this is a debut indie-published novel that deserves a 5 star review as it will be enjoyed by murder-mystery lovers who like to take their time over untangling the plot and the clues.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Helen Hollick
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