Friday, December 18, 2020

Book Review: Shamus Dust by Janet Roger. Poetic murder at its best.



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.




Janet Roger was apprehended for the first time at age three, on the lam from a strange new part of town. The desk sergeant looked stern, but found her a candy bar in his pocket anyway. Big mistake. He should have taken away her shoelaces. She's been on the run ever since.




Before this book, I have not heard of the word shamus meaning private detective. I was intrigued and agreed to read the book.

The narrative of the story is so poetic in deliverance that I repeated certain paragraphs to remember it, reading it out loud just for the pure joy of it. The rhythmic pulses added more glamour to the story, layered in the deep snowy streets of 1947 London. The descriptions so vivid that I was walking the streets literally, experiencing the sights and sounds of this popular city in proximity. Indulging in the flavours of an era gone by.

The scars of World War two were still visible but lives went on, fortunes were made and police officials still easy to bribe. Add a mystery of a hidden Roman Coliseum and the secrets of the privilege, and you have a story that is waiting to be discovered.

Private Investigator Newman found himself in the middle of it all as bodies dropped on Christmas Eve. Pulled into a world where the same-sex attraction was still forbidden and men would rather die than divulge their secrets.

Finding missing people might be his forte, but for this American PI, it was no smooth ride. Together we could sift through the evidence, talk to the people involved and followed the breadcrumbs as we indulge in the history of Roman Empires, beautiful women, well-built men and fast cars.

The plotline draws you in at each page. The added characters lifted the bar as they added suspense and more secrets to it.

Truly a well-written book that belongs next to Ruth Rendell, Agatha Christie, Heinz Konsalik and Stieg Larson books on your shelf.

Outside in the garden a robin took a dive off the top of a frosted plum tree, landed on a windowsill and started hopping around in the snow. So picture perfect that if he could sing as well as dance, they’d put him under contract at Paramount.


The silhouette of a single-engine Lysander skimmed a fret of trees, silent as a gull clipping wavetops, crossed the Oxford road close to stalling and floated weightless out of a sky dripping starlight. It yawed and dipped over a frozen swell of Quonset huts at the airfield perimeter, adjusted its trim and for a long moment let you hear the whisper of its motor, then glided in over a curling ground mist. It kissed the strip twice lightly, like Proust greeting his grandmother, and when it put its tail down I turned away from the car and followed Henry to the sliding doors of a hangar.


I kept my ribs stiff and stooped for the ticket, got it between my fingers and stopped dead. Slotted under the counter, in a line of bags and umbrellas, there was an air force khaki Gladstone with a metal initial fixed on each strap. The matador was eyeing me, wrapped in a scent as tight as her yellow dress. “Well, what do you know. You take somebody for a customer and it turns out he’s a gentleman. What a flutter-brain cluck!” I put out a hand to the countertop and straightened up. “And I took you for drum majorette. We’re both flutter-brain clucks.”


An outdoor coat hung beside the file drawers. Rubber overshoes warmed against a heating pipe behind the desk. There was no window. The only decoration was a framed picture on top of one of the cabinets of a sleek navy frigate edging into Malta’s Grand Harbor. It was barely creating a bow wave, on the kind of hot June afternoon that can make even a warship look serene.


The bright room was on the snug side of intimate. It had no windows. Only two steel-tube chairs across a bolted-down table, so narrow you could feel their breath in your face, as sour as their mood and as permanent as their point of view. I hadn’t seen either of them before. Two City detectives, one older and seated opposite, the other younger and leaner and on his feet, with the chiseled look of a Hero of Soviet Agriculture.



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