Updated: Mar 25, 2020
SHAMUS DUST: HARD WINTER, COLD WAR. COOL MURDER by Janet Roger is set in 1947, in London as it recovers from the destruction and devastation of war. There is bomb damage everywhere, people are struggling with deprivation and loss; and yet the murder of a pimp, shot dead at a local church, is causing shock waves. American Private Investigator, Newman, receives a call from a local Councillor on Christmas Morning, with a vague request to check out an incident at one of the many properties the client owns in the area, which soon becomes Newman's full-blown investigation of a murder, leading to another murder, and another.
That first dead man, is a local pimp with a sideline in compromising photo blackmail, so needless to say nobody seems all that disappointed that he was shot to death on that freezing Christmas morning. Newman's suspicious of the nurse who found his body, but a missing university professor and his assistant, a male sex worker, an abusive father and the daughter who befriends Newman; as well as plenty of other potential complications soon have Newman digging deep into a very sordid and complex part of London society.
The style of SHAMUS DUST is firmly old-school noir, with an interesting juxtaposition of what's very much a hat-tip to Chandler and Hammett in construction and feel, set in deprived, dark and dodgy London. Because of this readers might notice the inclusion of American terminology within an English environment, which makes sense given the central protagonist's American background - although why or how he ended up in London I must have missed.
I feel quite comfortable in excusing myself for missing some of these finer details or snippets as this author does a very good job at wrong-footing the reader. Motive's that start out seemingly pretty straight-forward, shape shift before your eyes into something considerably more complicated, the pace is relentlessly forward moving, even with this being a longer book than one would normally expect in classic noir circles. There is also a wonderfully dry, acerbic sense of humour at points, one that felt slightly unexpected from an American character, but perfect within the English setting. The language employed here is, for the most part, vivid and pointed, perfectly aligned with the masters of noir, with just the occasional slip into too much style over substance where the meaning gets a little drowned out by hyperbole.
Assured, clever, dark and elegantly delivered SHAMUS DUST is one for fans of noir styled fiction. It is an interesting undertaking with the execution of noir stylings in a non-standard setting; combined with the insertion of an American lone wolf detective in a desperate and struggling London. Doesn't hurt that the action takes place in the seedy underbelly that current day follower's of British high society might recognise still.
This review was fist published by Karen Chisholme in AustCrime 12 November 2019