Taylor, D J - 'At the Chime of a City Clock'
AT THE CHIME OF A CITY CLOCK is the eighth novel published by award winning novelist and biographer D J Taylor and his second in the crime genre.
Set in early 1930s London, at a time of financial meltdown, struggling writer James Ross can't survive on the proceeds of sales of his short stories to publishers, so has to take a day job as a door to door carpet cleaning fluid salesman. On his odyssey through some of the seedier streets of London, he falls under the spell of the glamourous Suzi, secretary to the mysterious Mr Rasmussen, a shady businessman. Ross realises that Mr Rasmussen looks strangely familiar from the pages of an old Police Gazette, but it's not only Ross with suspicions about Mr Rasmussen. The mysterious Mr Haversham from West End Central police station puts pressure on Ross to give him information about Mr Rasmussen's movements.
As the story unfolds, there are also chapters related from the point of view of Leo, a sociopathic young criminal who seems to have fallen out of the pages of Brighton Rock, and of Mr Rasmussen himself, as he insinuates himself into the lives and homes of high society. When Ross manages to appropriate an invitation to a country house party to which Rasmussen and Suzi are invited, events lead up to their inevitable conclusion.
D J Taylor gives a convincing depiction of Ross's down at heel world of door to door salesmen, Lyons' corner house cheap breakfasts and landladies who need to be dodged when ends don't meet meet sufficiently to pay the rent arrears. Ross is an engaging hero, trying to make a living and write as best he can in less than ideal conditions, trying to avoid the dodgy dealings of some of his salesman colleagues, and being baffled by his relationships with women.
AT THE CHIME OF A CITY CLOCK isn't so much a whodunnit (the identity of the villain is clear from early in the novel), as a noir homage to/parody of a 30s London on the brink of an economic crisis not entirely unfamiliar to contemporary readers. This book is a surprisingly charming novel, well-written and with an engaging use of 30s vernacular and dry sense of wit. I look forward to reading earlier books by this author.
Laura Root, England