Janet Roger's Classic Noir Thriller
A Chandler Tribute?
"Possibly, as Janet Roger is an unapologetic devotee. Blend cutting one-liners, a literally chilling atmosphere, and a genuine sense of a decent man caught up in the complacent corruption of the powerful and you have my novel of the year for 2019. I wrote: “Every so often a book comes along that is so beautiful and so haunting that a reviewer has to dig deep to even begin to do it justice.” Shamus Dust is Brilliant. Simply brilliant."
Shamus Dust is a noir thriller that tells of a private investigation that cuts through official corruption, vice rackets, police protection and murder. Nonetheless it’s a story set against the regular pulse of a London recovering from war, in a period when dark and twisted is the new normal. Here's how Will Byrnes (a top reviewer for Goodreads) sees it: "If you like Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, or others of the type, in print and/or film, you will absolutely love Shamus Dust. Janet Roger has completely captured the noir patois the masters mastered, and has restored it to life in this tale of greed, vice, and corruption in the post-war 1947 City of London, a particularly frozen time at the dawn of the Cold War, as London is suffering through maybe its coldest winter ever. Christmas Day, a mononymous Yank PI, Newman, in the role of Marlowe or the Continental Op, steps into a murder on his way to deliver some keys. The vics begin to pile up like ploughed snow, and off we go. Femmes fatales, a host of colorful characters in a black and white landscape. Corruption all around. Not your usual Christmas tale. No, this one is waaaay more fun."
A PI TALE of Vice, Greed & Graft
AN AMERICAN SHAMUS in London
By the time of our story the shamus has been an American in London for nigh-on twenty years. Arrived in the Depression era for the chance of a job in the City, Newman lands a spot there as an insurance fraud investigator, then spends his wartime transferred to a British Army unit with his boss, tracking down military supply fraud. War over, he’s returned to the City and going it alone as a gumshoe. There was nothing unusual in that. After VJ plenty of Americans had stayed on in (western) Europe, in and out of uniform, and London was no exception. Of course the civilian Americans aren’t so easy to tell in a crowd, but in photographs from those years you’ll see any number of GIs strolling Soho and Trafalgar Square on furlough. Not that Newman will ever pass as a Londoner. There’s the accent obviously, his problem with tea-drinking and the everlasting island weather. But in the end what keeps even the practiced outsider off-balance are the fine-tuned manners, mores and casual prejudices of the natives. It puts me in mind of the way I watch those remarkable films noirs from the same period; how completely familiar and still how strange that world of noir can seem. For me the sense of dislocation is a part of the magnetism. And perhaps after all it’s what holds Newman in Cold War London, prowling its gilded society along with its mean streets. "The hand with the cigar motioned from the tip of his coat lapel down to his shoelaces. It took in the loose-fitted, square black jacket with its buttonhole, the watchchain and necktie with its crest, the gray-stripe trousers and handmade shoes with toecaps and a high black shine. Even on Drake the outfit was roomy. It’s the City way. They get sent away for schooling at an impressionable age, in uniforms meant for growing into. The habit never dies." - Shamus Dust
READ CHAPTERS from Shamus Dust
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.
A SHAMUS Standing Over a Corpse
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.
Shamus Dust is classic literary noir at its finest. A beautifully rendered and intriguing post-war mystery. I absolutely loved the novel. Very impressive.
Shamus Dust is one of the best books that I’ve read in the last 5 years and definitely one of the most memorable debuts ever. The fact that a debut author took the risk of opting to move away from a formulaic plot (detective with a troubled past stumbles upon a crime.. blah blah) and write a historical noir in the vein of The Alienist in itself is mind boggling - and the fact that she pulled it off with such aplomb, even more so. The story takes place in post-war London which is facing the aftermath of the blitz. The rubble has only just been cleared and the rebuilding process is in the works. An American PI based in London gets a call from a political bigwig unknown to him. One thing leads to another until Newman finds himself in the middle of multiple murders, powerful men and women with their own agendas and bent cops looking to shut him down. What follows is 300 pages (Kindle edition) of pure artistry. The plot is extremely complex but easy to follow. The author introduces a number of characters who aren’t relevant to the plot but add so much color to the story. The quality of research and writing is remarkable, even more so because this is her debut book. The imagery is so real that I felt I was waking the streets of London in the midst of winter along with the MC! The pace of the book is absolutely wonderful. This is a slow burner, exactly like it should be. The twists in the plot come slowly and very casually - and I just didn’t see the ending coming! Absolutely phenomenal book.
An astonishing debut. The best PI novel I have read in years. Every so often a book comes along that is so beautifully written and so haunting that a reviewer has to dig deep to even begin to do it justice. Shamus Dust by Janet Roger is one such. So, what exactly is Shamus Dust? Tribute? Homage? Pastiche? ‘Nod in the direction of..’? ‘Strongly influenced by ..’? Pick your own description, but I know that if I were listening to this as an audio book, narrated in a smoky, world-weary American accent, I could be listening to the master himself. The phrase ‘Often imitated, never bettered’ is an advertising cliché and, of course, Janet Roger doesn’t better Chandler, but she runs him pretty damn close with a taut and poetic style that never fails to shimmer on the page.
Beautifully written, Shamus Dust is a classic, atmospheric novel. Hardboiled in a restrained, soulful debut. Janet Roger is a rare writer. Murder in Common recommended reading.
The title Shamus Dust , immediately conjures up images of hard-boiled detectives from the film-noir era and the actors who brought them to life on the silver screen: Bogart, Robinson, Garfield, Mitchum, Powell, Ladd …… and the list goes on. Surprisingly, the setting of this story is not New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Instead, the reader is immersed in 1947 war-torn London with its bombed out buildings and people’s lives in physical and psychological disarray. An American private investigator living in London, Newman, is brought into a messy murder case which as the story unfolds seems to constantly evolve and take on a life of its own. Plenty of dead bodies and suspects intermingle with a rich cast of characters that provoke a variety of emotional responses. This tale upholds that timeless saying, “there is no black and white, only shades of gray”. Surely a gross understatement within the context of this story. Author Janet Roger employs her own narrative style that demands you pay close attention to the deft, unpredictable changes of pace that require maintaining your analytical balance and equilibrium. As a former U.S. government special agent and private investigator, I found myself immediately engaged in deja-vu mode and applying my own experience, knowledge, and skills to this challenging and captivating hologram of a read. Mystery, intrigue, suspense-it’s all here in one masterfully written, exquisitely unique story that will most certainly entertain you. I applaud Janet Roger and give her book my highest recommendation.
This twisty, complex novel is set just after the war has ended in the bombed-out City of London, a place I know well (although not until many years later…). The author gives us a place full of fog, corruption, broken buildings and broken people. It is written from the point of view of an American private investigator and is very much in the style of Raymond Chandler. There are some great lines in there- go on- read it and see them for yourself!
Shamus Dust is a noir homage that reminds us the blackouts may have ended but the city’s darkness lingered on; it’s an evocative, haunting debut.
It's noir of the highest order, with a darn good mystery linking the story of an American PI, Newman, who is called out Christmas morning on an unlikely errand. A nurse has found the body of a young man in the church's porch where she's gone to light candles before her shift starts. With Newman's instincts on alert, he finds an unlikely helpmate in the form of the temporary medical examiner over the holidays. Before he can blink, the murders have escalated, and Newman has an uncanny knack for being either the body's finder or uncomfortably close to them at the time of their demise. What follows is a cat and mouse game of the highest order. Big financiers trying to capitalize on the war rebuilding efforts vie with historical archeologists. Women who marry for all the wrong reasons are contrasted with men who like other men and others who take advantage of that. And then there are the Councilors, the police Superintendent, and the detectives who may or may not be on the right side of the law. Because which is the right side in these times? The element that is immediately apparent and elevates this from any other noir PI mystery is Roger's use of language. Supple and as elegant as a silk gown worn without undies, her descriptions and prose flows and puts the reader squarely in the era. If you like the era, or PI novels, or noir, or just damn good writing, this one's for you.
I found Shamus Dust a remarkable book. One of the few times I have consciously slowed my reading rate in order to savour every last drop. The numerous reviews comparing Janet Roger’s writing to that of Raymond Chandler are spot on. This felt like long-overdue therapy after finishing Playback and realising, with a heavy heart, it was the last of Chandler’s Marlowe novels. Of course, the key to a good first-person detective caper is the protagonist themselves – since the reader is going to be spending so much time in their head – and, quite simply, I couldn’t get enough of Newman. Laconic, self-deprecating, and with a kind of observational wit (that brought more than a few unexpected laughs), Newman’s status as an American in post-war London gives him the perfect “outsider” credentials for a private detective. His DNA is also built entirely of effortless noir cool, with just the right balance of homage and originality. Definitely someone who could carry a series. Around her leading man, the author assembles a large cast of well-drawn characters, variously powerful, damaged, alluring and compromised. All adjectives that could be applied to the book’s other great “character”: the bombed-out London of 1947. The amount of research that must have gone into creating this vision of the capital is mind-boggling, but the result is worth every bit of it. Newman’s London is a truly immersive experience for the reader. Vivid, three-dimensional and alive. Alongside all this is the simplest but most important fact of all – this book is beautifully written. On a personal note, as someone who used to walk the beat just a few hundred yards from where Shamus Dust is set, the book had a secondary resonance for me. The surviving streets and buildings brought back a lot of memories. Perhaps Newman could live to a ripe old age and bump into a fresh-faced young constable in one of those timeless pubs. Give him the lowdown on the City of London. Its history and beauty. Its dark underbelly.