Rag and Bone men have been around since the early 1800’s, originally they were known as “Bone Grubbers” who collected old carcasses and rags. Primarily an English phenomenon, they may have been known by other names in Europe.
During the 19 and 20 centuries, most rag and bone men went around on foot collecting scrap metal but the wealthier ones who operated around the big English towns and cities used horse and carts before eventually moving on to vans or lorries. The squalid and hand to mouth existence of the Rag and Bone men was highlighted in the late sixties early seventies, when the BBC ran the comedy series Steptoe & Son.
Nowadays the rag and bone man has been all but replaced by the house clearance people and antiques dealers who will collect scrap but more lucratively unwanted furniture, ornaments or junk and sell them on. While all the time, hoping to stumble on an antique, even these modern day rag and bone men have been portrayed in a British TV drama, yes before Ian MacShane crossed the pond to make himself a household name in American dramas like Deadwood, he played the title role in the TV series, Lovejoy as an antiques dealer. A wide-boy, who along with his hired help, solved murders and mysteries around England. Never has the rag and bone man or even the house clearance guy had a major role in the literary crime fiction world, that is until this month’s book. It’s ‘Give Up The Dead’ by Joe Clifford and published in June this year by Oceanview Publishing (www.oceanviewpub.com) .
Jay Porter is a former insurance investigator, whose life is now in tatters, three years after he broke up a Paedophile ring in his local town in New Hampshire run by a Judge with connections. The result was a severe beating by a local gang of hoodlums and near death experience on a frozen lake which have left him with a permanent limp. It also cost him his marriage, family and job and his junkie brothers life. Now he works as a house clearance operative for a local firm. He’s in line to become partner and possibly owner when his boss retires but there is stiff competition in his hometown of Ashton as another house clearance firm is trying to squeeze Jay and his boss out. One snowy night around Thanksgiving, Jay is visited by a mysterious stranger who offers him a life changing amount of money to find a missing teenager, who it appears, is the centre of a custody battle between two wealthy parents in Boston. Jay treats the offer with skepticism and passes on it, only for his boss to be found beaten to within an inch of his life the next day, with all the evidence pointing to Jay. Under suspicion from his boss’s family (while he’s in an induced coma), the law and the locals, Jay must prove his innocence, stay one step ahead of the local house clearance competition and try to find the missing boy…
With the summer now well and truly upon us – it’s peak reading season for those escaping for two weeks to hotter climbs with nothing better planned then lounging by the pool or on the beach with book in hand. In Cliffords Give Up The Dead – you have a perfect read, if nothing else takes your fancy.
Although the story isn’t original, it does keep you intrigued and you get a real feel for the character and his woes in relation to the current hand life has dealt him. I could really get into the other books in the series and also with any future stories Clifford has planned for Jay Porter.
The setting in deep mid-winter in North America might give do more than take the edge off the hot balmy holiday, even I felt a deep shiver go through my body regularly when I read it in early May. Along with a bit of SAD setting in with every page seemingly describing grey dull days or horrendous whiteouts and driving snow.
This is the third book in the jay porter series the previous two being Lamentation in 2014
and December Boys in 2016. Although these aren’t the only books written by Joe Clifford (www.joeclifford.com) a former drug addict who now lives with his family in San Francisco. The others are Junkie Love in 2013, Wake The Undertaker in 2013, Choice Cuts in 2012 and a collection of crime stories inspired by the songs of Bruce Springsteen which he edited called Trouble In The Heartland which was published in 2014.
So get your Parka jacket on or if you are reading this on holiday, slip on a jumper and see if you can’t get into the world of Jay Porter in the icy, snow blanketed countryside of New Hampshire. Then go peruse the other books in the series whilst you await the next installment from an up and coming American writer.