ROGER BRINGS IN A NEWMAN TO REVIVE A CLASSIC GENRE

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JRoger_FC(R9iii).inddOver the past few weeks Australians have been praying for rain in their fire ravaged continent, while in the northern hemisphere, we’ve been praying for a white Christmas for the past four weeks or more. Neither party got much of what they wanted.  Although I did find myself wading through snow over Christmas and it was all down to the first book review of the new decade. Its Shamus Dust – Hard Winter, Cold war, Cool Murder by Janet Roger and Published by Matador (https://www.troubador.co.uk/matador/) at the end of October 2019.

On an Early Christmas morning in a snowbound blitz scarred London, insurance fraud investigator Newman is awoken from his slumber by the telephone. The voice on the other end identifies himself as Councillor Drake from the City of London. He needs Newman to go to a church in the city where a body of one of Drake’s tenants has been discovered and from there find the killer. On arrival at the church, along with the body of a young man, he finds the only witness is a nurse on her way to work. Within a matter of hours the suspect list has risen, so to does their occupancy of city morgue over the following couple of days. What initially looks like a vice crime turns into a case of cross and double cross during one of the hardest winters to hit London. Firmly in the midst of it is our American, war veteran hero, who is trying to stay one step ahead of the police and find the killer with help of the curvaceous coroner Dr Elizabeth Swinford. Can they find the killer? Save the Councillors reputation and stop the killing spree in the financial heart of England’s capital?

Another thing we all look forward to around the Christmas period is a large feast and to make it all go smoothly you try to get every ingredient right. Just like writing a book. To produce a well-rounded and satisfying read, one needs all the right ingredients and in Shamus Dust Janet Roger has done that. From the perfect setting, to a memorable and charming central character and the ensemble cast of supporting characters topped off with the right amount of tension and humour, which allow the reader to become thoroughly engrossed in the book.

Janet Roger

Janet Roger

I started reading this book on the Friday before Christmas, it was pre-dawn on a cold crisp morning in a Starbucks near where I work. Yes, the atmosphere was perfect and never before had a book so made me feel more in the moment than this one and its opening pages. The nearest comparison to this is a Christmas Carol by Dickens and Mystery In White by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

What Roger has delivered in Shamus Dust is a truly remarkable seasonal crime thriller, featuring her dry witted detective who is cut from the same cloth as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer. He is a delight to listen to in your head as you read this book and like his contemporaries, is fallible and prone to getting hurt…

The rich and detailed style of Rogers writing gives more life to her main character, the story and its setting, that if I was transported back in time to 1947 now with a copy, I would not feel out of place and could, by the lovingly detailed descriptions of post war London, find my way around the city. The skill in which she has written and described Newman’s surroundings and characters who inhabit it proves, if proof was needed, that this book was written and researched by a storyteller who is one to watch is the future.

This is Janet Roger’s (www.janetroger.com) debut novel and it has already tasted success, having won the 2019Bev hills award Beverly Hills Book Award, as well as Fully Booked’s Book of the Year and made NB magazine’s top ten.  She trained in Archaeology, History and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War. She currently leads a nomadic existence, admitting to never staying in one place for a minimum of six weeks and at most three months on the rare occasion.

When Raymond Chandler died in 1959 he left an unfinished novel, that book was Poodle Springs. Thirty years later, the well-known crime novelist Robert B. Parker finished the book using Chandlers original notes. In the future we won’t have to wait for more of Chandlers ideas to be discovered, with this original pairing of Roger and Newman.

If there is anything against the book, its that the detailed descriptions that the author has woven into the story, force the reader to almost stop and visually look around, thus taking slightly from the pace its self. It took me well over a week to read this 300 page book, although I’m inclined to put that down to the added distractions of Christmas.

This week my book group chose the rota for the next 12 months and I got November, as a result Shamus Dust is already vying for my pick along with Mystery In White. But to be fair its only January, there’s a lot of reading to be done between now and then.

So dust off your trilby and raincoat and head down to your local book shop and purchase a copy or download it, before the rest of the world latches onto this rising literary star and Mr. Newman.

 

Reviewed by:  Adrian Murphy

PRESCOTT’S SECRET TO SUCCESS IS A SMALL FEMININE ARMY ARMED WITH REMINGTON’S AND SHARP PENCILS

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The Secrets We Kept CoverNext year marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Boris Pasternak, the author of the famous novel, Dr Zhivago published in 1957. Despite Pasternak’s avowal that it was a love story, Dr Zhivago was banned in his home country due to its anti-October revolution sentiments, this also didn’t stop David Lean making it into a hugely successful film in 1965 starring Omar Sharif.

Lara Prescott the author of this month’s second book review, has been fascinated about the story of Dr Zhivago since she learned she was named for it’s heroine by her mother. The book is The Secrets We Kept and is published by Hutchinson Books https://www.penguin.co.uk/company/publishers/cornerstone/hutchinson.html on the 3rd September.

Prescott’s book is a novel about the writing of Dr Zhivago , the sacrifices the author and his muse Olga Ivinskaya (Lara) made; and the role the CIA played in getting a banned book to be an underground success in Russia. It was while researching the history of the book, she noticed many of the heavily redacted documents she was reading had been typed by the all-female typing pool of the CIA, an organisation in its infancy at the time the novel was written.

Why was the CIA interested in the book you may wonder? The Americans thought that itZhivagopster2 provided a way of enlightening the Russian readers to more western sympathies. The book was therefore being used as a weapon in the cold war.

This is a story of two strands. We follow Lara, Pasternak’s muse and mistress, and the inspiration for the Lara of Dr Zhivago. She suffered more than Pasternak himself for his art, spending 5 years in a ‘Re-Education Camp’; basically a labour camp, for her refusal to say that Pasternak was writing anti soviet literature and to supply details of the novel to her interrogators. Lara is loyal and she passionately believes in Pasternak as a writer but is not naïve and realizes the danger that Pasternak’s desire to get his masterpiece published and recognised is to herself and her family.

The other strand of the story takes place in America, where we meet Irina, a Russian immigrant who is employed by the CIA, ostensibly as a secretary but then, because of her Russian ancestry to be trained as a spy. She meets and falls in love with a fellow agent as she becomes involved in the CIA plot to release Dr Zhivago in the USSR.

The story is told through the eyes and voice of Lara, Irina and though the group voice of the secretarial pool at the CIA. The latter is the group that fascinated me the most. Women who had held challenging positions as undercover agents in the Second World War, relegated to typing. Whilst the story of Irina and Sally is from the imagination of Lara Prescott, the redacted files she read were typed by real women. I enjoyed the way Prescott gave the spy story a feminine twist. There are too many male dominated spy stories out there already and the important women of history have previously been frequently overlooked. This reminded me a little of Hidden Figures, the story of the women ‘computer’ at NASA who played such a vital role in the space race. Whilst I don’t like re do’s of male stories with a female twist, just to jump on a modern feminist bandwagon, this story rings true, mainly because at its heart it is true. How fascinating that the story behind the publishing of the book may grab our interest as much as the novel it is about!

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Lara Prescott (NY Times)

This is American author Lara Prescott’s (www.laraprescott.com) first novel, she holds a Masters in Fine Arts from the Michener Centre for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin. Before getting her MFA she was an animal protection advocate and a political campaigner around the world, including trying to get the first woman prime minister of Trinidad & Tobago elected. She now lives in Texas with her family.

The characters are well written and all three main ladies elicited sympathy for their trials and tribulations. I felt the creation of the cold war America and Russia setting was very well researched. For a public who enjoy similar placed TV and film dramas, I can understand why this story has been sold to the producers of ‘The Night Manager’ and ‘La La Land’. It would have been one for David Lean too, if he were still with us. I was pleased to see that there was not a cliched happy ending. That would have been a let-down after a enjoying book that left me with lots to think about and a definite urge to revisit Dr Zhivago.

So “potoropis” down to your local book shop and get a copy or download it before the next cold war starts or winter sets in, which ever comes first.

 

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

 

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d love the feedback.

 

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