Updated: Mar 25, 2020
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Janet. Thanks for staying in with me.
The pleasure’s mine! Thank you for the invitation.
I rather think I might know the answer to this, but what’s the book you’ve brought to tell us about?
Shamus Dust of course - it’s out at the end of this month. And completely by coincidence, it turns out that October is going to be the 80th birthday of Raymond Chandler’s original Philip Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep. I’ll explain the connection later, but the birthday coincidence really delighted me. It’s been a huge thrill to see many of the early reviews compare Shamus Dust (and I’d better add, favourably) with Chandler. The first review to do that takes pride of place on the book’s back cover! Believe me, for my first attempt at a hardboiled mystery that’s been a rather overwhelming response. It feels as if the book has been autographed by Bogart and Bacall!
So, tell me, what can we expect from an evening in with Shamus Dust?
A hardboiled mystery fest from the real noir period! But seriously, setting aside the marvellous Chandler comparisons, there’s a very neat description of Shamus Dust made by a reviewer who says, Imagine Polanski’s masterpiece, Chinatown played out against the bomb sites and grimy alleys of a freezing 1947 London. I really hadn’t thought about those parallels before, but on reflection I do think the reviewer nails it. Like Chinatown, Shamus Dust unfolds as a dark tale driven by the greed and invulnerability of the powerful. Both involve criminal sexuality. Both are stories of deviant wealth and civic corruption, and both descend into routine murder for the cover-up. Also, both are told as an intimate noir mystery that unravels through the eyes of the gumshoe who’s on the case. The movie, of course (Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway) is fabulous. I’ll mention one more connection. Chinatown’s terrific screenplay – it’s often voted the greatest ever! - is by Robert Towne, an Angeleno himself, who loves Chandler’s lazy, lyrical way with a narrative. So do I, and it was this lyric style above all that I wanted for Shamus Dust. It seemed such an obvious fit for a story that, after all, is set exactly in those years when the Marlowe novels are at their best.
What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?
I brought you some flowers! I’ve long been a confirmed itinerant and travel constantly. All years are lived in hotel rooms and apartments, in sleeping cars on trains, cabins on ferries and freighters - you name it. And so I do get asked how I ever settle down to writing. The answer is, truly, that I write anywhere I have to. If there’s the luxury of a desk, I’ll pull up a chair. Sometimes my view is simply a blank wall. But there are other times when I get a great big window and a view in front of it that really is worth a photograph (I never ordinarily take photos). This one looks out over Osaka, Japan, and the tulips sitting in the coffee pot made the day just perfect. A lot of my writing spaces, I’d have to say, feature flowers in coffee pots. I’m a godsend for the nearest florist!
Now then, because the Christmas season is coming I brought this wonderfully atmospheric photo of Trafalgar Square at Christmastime 1948, taken by N. T. Stobbs. It bowled me over when I first came across it. I love the ghosting lights, and its feel of chill night rain glossing the pavement and hanging on the air. The fountains are familiar, of course, though nowadays that statue of General Gordon is on the Victoria Embankment of the Thames. (Down the road from where I’m writing this, there’s an identical version near Melbourne’s State Parliament House.) In Shamus Dust there’s a scene where the shamus stands under the lit-up tree on Christmas night, watching some GIs fooling in the snow with their girls. In fact, since we’re talking 1947 here, that Christmas tree was the first ever in Trafalgar Square. In that year the city of Oslo shipped a 20-metre Norway spruce to London, in gratitude for support given during the Second World War. It started a tradition that continues to this day. So here’s a thought. If you can’t be in Trafalgar Square one evening this Christmas, take a glass of something warming, settle in with Shamus Dust and stand under the tree lights with the shamus.
And lastly, something I came across only recently. Archaeology is guaranteed to fascinate me, and what you see is part of a truly unique Roman mosaic, recently discovered by accident in a farmer’s field in a tiny place called Boxford, sixty-two miles west of London. The full story is in a blog on my website. The payoff though, is that the farmer needs his field back; and immense as the discovery is, the museums can neither find the funds to remove it or the space to accommodate it (it’s huge). So the location remains secret and the mosaic has been reburied. No more than a handful of people have seen it! Now, this caught my eye because something similar was a constant problem in the postwar City of London. The City is that single square mile inside London’s ancient Roman walls, the financial heart of the capital - in effect, Wall Street across the pond. In 1947, the blitz had reduced much of it to rubble. But the blitz had also revealed monumental finds from the original Roman city - and they presented much the same sorts of problem as Boxford in 2019. The difference being that in Cold War London, fortunes were at stake, the real estate involved was some of the most valuable on the planet, and its owners included racketeers as well as City grandees. Cue the apparent vice killing that gets Shamus Dust under way.
About Janet Roger
Janet is an historical fiction author, writing literary crime. She’s published by Troubador Publishing in the UK and represented by JKS Communications Literary Publicity in the USA. She trained in archaeology, history and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War. Her debut novel, Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder is due 28 October and is currently attracting widespread media interest.
This discussion was first published by Linda Hill In Linda's Book Bag 28 October 2019 https://lindasbookbag.com/2019/10/28/staying-in-with-janet-roger-on-shamus-dust-publication-day/