Welcome to my site, where you'll find reviews on my noir crime thriller, SHAMUS DUST, articles and clips, blogs on the history of London and lots more. Take a look at the different pages:
Discover my classic noir novel: behind the scenes, between the covers, questions and answers and straight down the line Amazon and Goodreads reviews.
Read about 1947 London, its food and fuel shortages, increased rationing and deep snow piling on the agony.
Don't miss these clips with their view on London's postwar black market, corruption, and reconstruction
If you love your noir novels, and crime thriller books you'll enjoy my homage to those noir masters who gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse
Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder is set in the City of London in 1947.
Many people have asked me why I write about the City of London and why in the immediate aftermath of WWII. Well, I always did find that financial square mile, the City of London, exhilarating, but in 1988 something rather special happened there. Stop for a second and imagine you've got an absolute fortune riding on commercial real estate development, somewhere near to Wall Street. The ground is cleared, foundations are being dug out, and one day you get a call. It says everything is on hold, because excavations on the site have uncovered the first Viking settlement on Manhattan island! No kidding, something like that happens fairly regularly in the City, notably since reconstruction began after the blitz of World War 2. Today it can happen whenever a new subway is cut, or the latest, tallest skyscraper needs deeper foundations. In the Square Mile, the layers go right down to the original Roman settlement of London, and in 1988, a routine excavation for Guildhall's new art gallery hit the jackpot. What the archaeologists found were signs of an amphitheater - think of the Colosseum in Rome itself - in the shape of an oval the size of a football field! Amazing. And it took another twenty years to preserve the remains in a spectacular gallery of their own. But it turns out those remains had first been recorded almost forty years before, when postwar reconstruction was first getting underway. The significance of what the archaeologists found, it was said, just hadn't been spotted at the time. It set me thinking about the immense sums that were at risk - and the huge temptation to a cover-up - if the significance of the find had been appreciated. In recent years in Athens, for example, some ancient Greek remains were simply trucked out of a construction site (it's assumed) and dumped overnight in a dry riverbed. Where the original site might have been, no-one could tell. Shamus Dust tells the story of another kind of cover-up at the outset of the Cold War. But in the most valuable square mile on the planet, the need is more urgent, the stakes are deadly, and the solution is nastier by far.
Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder is set in the City of London in 1947. There's lots for you to discover and enjoy.
For as long as I remembered, I’d been sleeping like the dead. Could slip at any hour, in any place, deep into that cool night where the heartbeat crawls and dreams are stilled like small animals in winter. Not on account of some inner serenity or the easy conscience of an unspotted soul. It was a leftover, a habit arrived in a war, when all that counts is to grab at sleep and hold onto it whenever and wherever it offers. It becomes a thing accustomed. So routine you take it as given, right up until the hour it goes missing. Lately, I’d lost the gift. As simple as that. Had reacquainted with nights when sleep stands in shrouds and shifts its weight in corner shadows, unreachable. You hear the rustle of its skirts, wait long hours on the small, brittle rumors of first light, and know that when finally they arrive they will be the sounds that fluting angels make. It was five-thirty, the ragged end of a white night, desolate as a platform before dawn when the milk train clatters through and a guard tolls the names of places you never were or ever hope to be. I was waiting on the fluting angels when the telephone rang.
Trouble was in the air. Right now there were Soviets in Berlin, Communists in Manchuria, Zionists in Palestine. And the Americans on Bikini Atoll weren’t there for the beaches or the coconuts. But in the end, those were just headlines in the foreign pages. The City of London had troubles of its own. It had an empire waving goodbye, a currency stepping off a cliff, and some high-toned citizens with singular tastes and private arrangements they couldn’t buy off anymore. Berlin and Bikini passed over their heads. What walked them through my door were the tastes and the private arrangements. A chrome-plated address on Snow Hill made no difference. They would have found me anywhere.
Deborah Kalb, US journalist and author asked: You wrote that "the story's current relevance has just as much to do with its tale of well-heeled and influential people, willing and ready to cross any line that gets in their way." What connections do you see between your story and today's headlines? My reply was: When I wrote that, the Robert Mueller inquiry was in full swing in the United States. Since then, well you could choose your headline from so many parts of the world. The connection I had in mind was to Newman’s City of London in those Cold War years. Historically, the City’s grandees had played a long game, removing by degrees the checks and balances on their room for maneuver; until by 1947 their single square mile was the most powerful financial concentration on the planet, mostly self-governing, and owner of the considerable force that policed it. The law was its own, as Newman discovers. There’s a moral in there about the rest of us giving up ground on the checks and balances.
Be sure not to miss the section on the City of London, that remarkable one square mile governed and policed only by its own.
The City of London was different. A single square mile, financial heart of the metropolis, where banks and insurance offices, trading houses and exchange floors mined the motherlode and squeezed out every other way of living. It had a resident population that could fit in the back of a limousine, and when its offices emptied and headed home at nights, they left behind a ghost town. Meaning that the possibilities for lawbreaking were rarefied, best appreciated by men who wore club ties and returned home late to wives with headaches and hearts of diamond. Meaning also that its police were left to concentrate on those things closest to the City’s heart. It had twelve hundred officers paid to keep the traffic moving, eject undesirables not the City’s own, and otherwise maintain an atmosphere congenial to the making of loud money. Ordinarily the setup worked like a Swiss timepiece. In the City a killing was strictly a figure of speech. Most days of the year you stood a better chance of getting shot at in a lighthouse.
And the history of the City with a Roman heritage that threatened postwar reconstruction and the interests of big business.
In the blitzed London of the early postwar it was stumbled on in the north of the City, on a construction site close by the current (vast) Barbican development. But the window closed again, and the coliseum’s existence - it’s an arena the size of a football field - simply got overlooked (!). The mistake is explained today as just one of those things, an oversight that went unnoticed until 1988, when the archaeological record was examined again. Once rediscovered, the Roman amphitheater was excavated for more than a decade, then opened to the public in a spectacular new gallery below ground (don’t miss it on a trip to London). Shamus Dust, of course, fills out the story differently. It goes back to those Cold War years, when rebuilding the City was up for grabs and fortunes were staked on the coming construction boom. In this telling, the real estate interests include high-end racketeers as well as corrupt City grandees, who think any delay on construction will be very bad karma indeed. Cue that monumental discovery on a construction site that no-one will get to hear of. Cue the apparent vice killing that gets Shamus Dust under way. And then cue the hardboiled gumshoe who gets hired as part of the cover-up.
At the limit of the firelight a figure was sitting on the edge of a mattress, lean and hollowed, knees pulled up to his chest. He was tugging the ends of a blanket across the shoulders of a ragged blue suit, writing with a pencil stub on his shirt cuff one slow mark at a time. His tongue worked along his teeth as he wrote. Spittle trapped in the stubble under his lip. And from some Ypres or Delville Wood or Vimy Ridge or Paschendaele, every restless atom of his limbs danced the perpetual St. Vitus of shellshock. I lay watching him for a time, then looked around at the rest of the building.
It’s Christmastime 1947, in the City of London’s square mile of high finance. A seeming vice killing spooks a City councilor into hiring Newman, an expatriate American shamus, to keep his name out of a murder. Newman’s private inquiries split two different ways. One takes him to the rackets, to a police murder investigation, and to the City’s own grandees. The second takes him into the ruins left behind by the blitz, to make sense of what he’s finding out about his own client.
Caroline King, Contrary Life