Bill Moody, 1941 – 2018

The following is an edited version of an essay by Aage Hedley Petersen, which was published in Denmark in Jazz Special, number 164,  February-April, 2019. Any errors and infelicities in the translation are mine and mine alone!

When I was putting together the article I wrote about jazz in the English writer John Harvey’s books featuring Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick as the main character, Harvey drew my attention to American writer and jazz drummer Bill Moody (27th September 1941 – 14th January 2018). It turned out that Harvey’s poem about Chet Baker was reprinted not only in Michael Connelly’s novel The Drop, but also in Bill Moody’s Looking for Chet Baker.

Moody lived on the American West Coast – principally Las Vegas – for most of his life, working as a teacher and reviewer, as well as enjoying a musical career which included playing with such notable figures as Earl Hines, Lou Rawls, Maynard Ferguson and the singer Jon Hendricks. He recorded with both Hendricks and Ferguson when they visited Czechoslovakia, where Moody stayed for three years in the late sixties. During his stay in Prague he also wrote a non-fiction book about the American jazz emigrants who “fled” to Europe in the second part of the twentieth century: Exiles : American Musicians Abroad, mostly based on interviews with musicians like Art Farmer and Johnny Griffin and others. Among the emigrants who stayed in Denmark, however, only Stan Getz gets his own chapter – not Dexter Gordon or Ben Webster; and the remarkable pianist, Duke Jordan, is not even mentioned!

Exiles

Solo Hand, the first novel in the series (1994) introduces the jazz pianist Evan Horne as the main character. Horne has injured his right hand in a traffic accident, which has necessitated a long break in his playing career. Jazz here does not particularly influence the action, but nevertheless the one appreciates the musical descriptions and anecdotes, for example: “As the flamboyant drummer Buddy Rich was being wheeled into the surgery, the doctor asked him if there was anything he was allergic to, he answered “Country Music!”

With the second novel, Death of a Tenor Man (1995) Moody found the perfect jazz mystery! The death of tenor saxophonist, Wardell Gray. In 1955 Gray was hired by Benny Carter to play with his big band at the opening of the Moulin Rouge – the first racially integrated casino in Las Vegas. The second evening he did not turn up, and the next day his body was found dumped on a field outside the city. The murder was never solved – a cold case which Horne investigates and, in doing so, stirs up a hornets’ nest, but without a definite solution to the murder being found. Another author, James Ellroy, suggests in his novel The Cold Six Thousand that Gray had a sexual relationship with a white woman who was connected with the mafia, and this led to his being beaten to death. Either way, you have the feeling that the police’s motivation to solve the murder of a “black drug-addict” was small or non existant!

Tenor

The third volume, The Sound of the Trumpet, revolves around Clifford Brown. In collectors’ circles some apparently authentic tapes of Brown’s playing emerge, and Evan Horne is consulted to vouch for their authenticity. As the story progresses, we follow Moody’s interpretation of Clifford Brown’s last days in June, 1956, when, together with the pianist Richie Powell – Bud Powell’s brother – and Richie’s wife Nancy, he was on his way to Chicago and the next gig by Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet. As you may know, it goes awfully wrong. With Nancy at the wheel, she loses control of the car, which goes off the road and resolts in all three being killed.

Trumpet

The fourth volume, Bird Lives, is not especially about Charlie Parker, despite the title; he is only a symbol on a “real” jazz musician, in contrast to those smooth-jazz practitioners who are murdered by a serial-killer. Evan Horne is involved by the FBI to interpret those clues of jazzy nature the killer has left on the crime scene – among others a white feather and some haiku-poems, for instance: “ On Coltrane’s Soultrane / Jazz is always great Good Bait/ Tadd’s Long Gone – Delight”.

Volume five, Looking for Chet Baker (2002) is probably Moody’s most successful novel. The mystery about Chet Baker’s death after falling from a window in hotel “Prins Hendrik” in Amsterdam is an eternal source of myths and conspiracy theories – was he pushed, did he jump, or did he simly fall?

Baker

The sixth volume, Shades of Blue (2008) is a “real” jazz novel, in which the crime intrigues are peripheral, as is the case in volume seven, Fade to Blue (2011), the last novel in the series, in which Horne is involved in a movie-project to teach one of the great Hollywood stars “playing” fake-piano to a soundtrack recorded by Horne himself. The movie turns out to be a crime story inspired by Horne’s experiences in Bird Lives, which was the real reason why he was hired in the first place!

As a crime writer Moody is not exceptional – to me he is not in the same league as, for example, Michael Connelly and John Harvey. But contrary to those two, whose main characters are detectives with a certain interest in jazz, Moody was a jazz personality who wrote jazz novels with a crime motive, and such writers are very rare! I would have liked to write about my great favorite – Michael Connelly – who even a couple of years ago was the co-writer of the documentary Sound of Redemption about alto saxophonist Frank Morgan. But there is too little jazz substance in the novels, and therefore they are not relevant for the readers of this magazine. To the contrary, Moody’s novels offer a great pleasure for jazz nerds, who don’t mind compromising on other aspects of the work.

Finally, to say that the excellent and stylish cover illustrations on Death of a Tenor Man, The Sound of the Trumpet and Bird Lives are by John Howard.

 

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William McIlvanney, 1936-2015

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William McIlvanney

My Italian translator, friend, musician and frequent collaborator, Seba Pezzani, asked if I would contribute to an article he was writing about the Scottish author, William McIlvanney, and I was pleased to agree.

Here’s the link to Seba’s article – useful if you want to brush up your Italian … and below is my little contribution …

The first time I met William McIlvanney was at a crime writing festival in Frontignan in the south of France, a country where we were both published by François Guerif, chef of Rivages Noir. I’d already read much of McIlvanney’s work, of course, the crime novels featuring Glasgow police detective Jack Laidlaw, as well as other titles, including ‘Docherty’ and ‘The Big Man’.

McIlvanney didn’t often attend these kind of events and I think only his long-standing friendship with François had brought him all the way from Scotland. As can often be the case when people are known more from their absence than their presence, rumours about him abounded: he was a heavy drinker, hard to get along with and possessed of a strong if not violent temper. The man I met could hardly have been more different; quite softly spoken, sober, charming even – handsome, certainly. We were staying a little way out of Frontignan and each evening we were there, at Willie’s suggestion – Willie, that was what he insisted I call him- we would stroll along to the café at the end of the street and sit at one of the corner tables outside, talking of this, that and everything else over a glass of single malt. I think it was Abalour.

Ian Rankin has made no secret of the fact that Laidlaw and McIlvanney’s portrait of Glasgow were a strong and direct influence on his character Rebus and his portrayal of Edinburgh. In my case, the influence was less direct, but no less strong. I’d also read – at around the same time, though they’d been published earlier – the Martin Beck novels of Sjöwall and Wahlöö, which, in a not dissimilar way to McIlvanney, used the medium of crime fiction and the figure of the detective as instruments to open up and explore contemporary urban life. Resnick and Nottingham were not so far away.

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Charlie Resnick & Billie Holiday

As the closing credits start to roll at the end of Hale County This Morning This Evening, RaMell Ross’s brilliant documentary about black lives in rural Alabama, there’s a sudden shift of tone on the soundtrack, eight bars of bright, clear trumpet leading into the unmistakeable voice of Billie Holiday singing – what else? – Stars Fell on Alabama.

It’s the version Billie recorded in January, 1957 for Norman Granz and released on the Verve label. Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison is the trumpet player, with Ben Webster on tenor, Jimmy Rowles at the piano, Barney Kessel guitar, Red Mitchell bass and Alvin Stoller drums. I know it from a ten disc set which brings together the studio sessions recorded for Verve between 1952 and 1959, along with various live sessions from Carnegie Hall, the Newport Jazz Festival and several early concerts with Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic.

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I can’t swear when I bought my copy, but I know full well when Charlie Resnick bought his, Christmas 1993. It says so in the sixth novel of the series, Cold Light, which was published in 1994.

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Here’s the beginning of chapter 8 …

For Christmas, Resnick had bought himself The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve, a new edition of Dizzy Gillespie’s autobiography and The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette. What he still had to acquire was a CD player.

But there he’d been, not so many days before, sauntering down from Canning Circus into town, sunshine, one of those clear blue winter skies, and glancing into the window of Arcade Records he had seen it. Amongst the Eric Clapton and the Elton John, a black box with the faintest picture of Billie on its front; ten CDs and a two-hundred-and-twenty-page booklet, seven hundred minutes of music, a numbered, limited edition, only sixteen thousand pressed worldwide.

Worldwide, Resnick had thought; only sixteen thousand worldwide. That didn’t seem an awful lot of copies. And here was one, staring up at him, and a bargain offer to boot. He had his cheque book, but not his cheque card. “It’s okay,” the owner had said, “I think we can trust you.” And knocked another five pounds off the price.

Resnick had spent much of the morning, between readying the duck for the oven, peeling the potatoes, cleaning round the bath, looking at it. Holding it in his hand. Billie Holiday on Verve. There is a photograph of her in the booklet, New York City, 1956; a woman early to middle-age, no glamour, one hand on her hip, none too patiently waiting, a working woman, c’mon now, let’s get this done. He closes his eyes and imagines her sniggering – Cheek to Cheek with Ben Webster, wasn’t that fifty-six? Do Nothing ‘Till You  Hear From Me. We’ll Be Together Again. The number stamped on the back of Resnick’s set is 10961.

So much easier to look again and again at the booklet, slide those discs from their brown card covers, admire the reproductions of album sleeves in their special envelope, easier to do all this than take the few steps to the mantlepiece and the card that waits in its envelope, unopened. A post mark, smudged, that might say Devon, the unmistakable spikiness of his ex-wife’s hand.

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Art Chronicles: Bonnard at Le Cannet

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Fruit on the Red Carpet 1945

I remember being surprised when I realised that Bonnard had lived through World War Two. In my mind, he had existed in the Paris of an earlier era, when, along with Vuillard, he was one of the leading lights in the school of Post Impressionism known as Les Nabis. But he lived – and continued to paint – until his death in 1947 at the age of 80.

In 1927, Bonnard bought a house in the village of Le Cannet, close to Cannes on the Cote d’Azur, and until the outbreak of the war, when travelling became first difficult and then impossible, he moved between there and his home and studio in Paris. From 1939 onwards, he and his wife Marthe, the subject of many of his paintings, lived solely in Le Cannet, Marthe’s mental and physical health declining until, in 1942, she died, leaving Bonnard bereft. You can see this in the self-portraits he made in those years; see also, I like to think, his awareness of what he had learned of events of the war.

The following poem of mine was written after reading Bonnard at Le Cannet by Michel Terrace, with photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson (Thames & Hudson, 1988). It was first published in Poems for the Beekeeper, edited by Robert Gent (Five Leaves Publications, 1996) and re-published in Bluer Than This (Smith/Doorstop, 1998) and Out of Silence (Smith/Doorstop, 2014).

Self Portrait
Bonnard at Le Cannet

Cold here, this room you sit in, 1945;
your corner table, vase of flowers and white cloth,
grey scarf  close about your neck.
You sit and smoke, patient for cognac
warm in its glass; a white cup with gold rim,
the small black coffee she will bring.

Again and again sketched in his diary –
Saturday, February 26th; Tuesday the 15th of June –
like an otter she would ease, sleek, into the bath,
snug against the curve of porcelain.

On the radio, news of the Armistice,
a hastily articulated peace, the Jews.
The air is rimed with smoke, far echo of guns.
The small electric heater stands unplugged,
no fire in the gate.

Marthe – why does she not come?

These last mornings you have walked
between the almond and the olive trees,
gazed over red roofs toward the fullness of the sea.
You painted ochres, oranges and browns,
cupboards steeped in jars and bottles,
herbs in bunches, greengages and plums,
golden apples, persimmons.

In the studio the slow shunt of trucks,
smell of paint thick on your hands;
stiff-legged before the mirror
you blow warmth into your fingers.
Head shaved, ready, this is not so difficult,
one portrait, all that’s left.

A gash of colour for the mouth,
those veins, blue, drawn down
across the fabric of the face;
black hollows where the eyes would have been,
burnt out by bodies that lay ripening,
close=pressed between trees, their richness
leaking back into the soil, beyond reach of seeing,
stripped beneath the surface of the sea.

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Self Portrait 1945

 

Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory is at Tate Modern from today (23rd January) until  6th May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Health Update …

 

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Since posting my previous blog giving details of a number of events and publications in which I’m due to be involved in this current new year – and sending out an email with the same information – I’ve had quite a few enquiries about the current state of my health, many expressing the hopeful assumption that this projected activity means things have improved. As indeed they have.

To recap [new readers, as they say, start here] I was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer toward the end of 2017 and most of 2018 was taken up by various forms of treatment at University College Hospital in central London: chemotherapy, high dose-rate brachytherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy. All of these have now finished, save for the hormone therapy, which is likely to continue for another year.

I was fortunate in that I managed to avoid the more serious of the possible side-effects from the various treatments, fatigue aside, and doubly fortunate in the quality of care I received from everyone at UCLH. At my most recent meeting with one of the consultants in charge of my case, she assured me that the treatments had rendered the cancer no longer active and that, in the case of aggressive cancers like mine, there was, statistically, a 30% chance of it returning. Odds that, in the circumstances, I’m happy to take.

Since I was diagnosed, I’ve been aware of quite large numbers of men who have been similarly diagnosed and whose treatment is ongoing or is now complete; in a good number of instances the treatment has been successful and the cancer has not returned.

Diagnosis – most usually now through an analysis of PSA (prostate specific antigen) through a simple blood test – is becoming more accurate, treatment more effective, and yet I still hear of men over the age of 60 who are refusing to be diagnosed or, even worse, denied this simple diagnostic test by their doctor on the grounds that it is fallible and inaccurate. If my GP hadn’t phoned me once she had seen my inflated PSA score in the results of my annual blood test and recommended making an appointment for me at UCLH, I would not have been diagnosed and treated so soon.

I beg you, if you’re male and over 60 and haven’t already been tested, please do so. You can find more details on the Prostate Cancer UK website. The worst that can happen is that it’s a false alarm and you will have wasted a relatively small amount of NHS time and money. The best, if you register positive, is that you will get the necessary treatment sooner rather than later.

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On the Road Again …

Belated best wishes for the New Year with my first post of 2019 in the blog’s rather fine new livery.

After missing out on a number of book events last year, primarily for health reasons, I’m hoping to do better this year, starting with two occasions marking the paperback publication of Body & Soul. Again, a little belatedly, but none the worse for that.

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On the evening of Thursday, 31st January, at the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, North London, I shall be joined by Stella Duffy to talk about said Body & Soul, as well as Stella’s most recent publications, the suspense novel, The Hidden Room, and the Inspector Alleyn mystery, Money in the Morgue, which she completed after it was left unfinished by Alleyn’s creator, Ngaio Marsh.

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Then, on the following evening, I shall be flying solo at another of my favourite bookstores, Waterstone’s in Nottingham. Tickets for both of these events are available now.

http://www.owlbookshop.co.uk/events/john-harvey-stella-duffy/

https://www.waterstones.com/events/an-evening-with-john-harvey/nottingham-60757

Move ahead to the spring and two events to launch the Shoestring Press publication of Aslant, which features both my poems and photographs by my daughter, Molly Ernestine Boiling. Any of you who’ve been following her work on http://whyernestine.tumblr.com will have a good idea of what to look forward to.

Molly and I will be at (speaking of favourite bookstores) Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham on Thursday, 25th April, and at the Poetry Café in London’s Covent Garden for Hylda Sims’ Fourth Friday, which will also feature the excellent singer-songwriter, Liz Simcock.

Step forward just one week later and over the Bank Holiday weekend I’ll be up in the north-east at Newcastle Noir. The programme is yet to be officially announced, but it may well reveal that I’ll be paired in discussion with the formidable Norwegian author, Gunnar Staalesen.

Details of these events to follow.

This is Your Life (so far …)

The writer, Jack Trevor Story, used to tell how he looked at the list of Birthdays in The Guardian each year to see if he were alive or dead. In his case that little ritual would have occurred on the 30th of March. Never having existed as far as the compilers of said list are concerned [And just who are they? Grizzled old obituary writers? Or interns let loose on Who’s Who?] whenever December 21st comes round I try to be disciplined and not look at all, thus avoiding the inevitable disappointment. But this year, somewhere between seven and eight in the morning, first coffee of the day at my side, I flicked open the relevant section and there I was. John Harvey, crime writer, 80. It would be lying to say that my initial prick of surprise was not followed by a small surge of pride.

Bday

Pathetic, you might think, but hey … 80. And in what company! Flanked by perhaps my favourite tennis player of all time, and one of my favourite guitarists [last glimpsed, some while back, in the Everly Brothers’ band at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall], and closely guarded by no less than Jane Fonda and Samuel L Jackson. What a pair!

And it was not only The Guardian … Totally unknown to me, Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature had put considerable time and energy into creating an entry on their website called simply John Harvey at 80. A lengthy survey of my life and writing career, together with a broad choice of book jackets and contributions from a number of people I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years, including Giles Croft, former artistic director of Nottingham Playhouse, screenwriter Billy Ivory and, in a brief but welcome video message, crime writer, Ian Rankin, You can check it out here …

Finally, the photographic evidence, birth certificate included. From the angelic lad in the tin bath (things were hard back in those far off days), through heaven knows what strange incarnations to the bald and bespectacled sage of today.

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Music of the Year, 2018

LIVE …

I’ve seen even less live music this past year than previously, something I hope to put right in 2019. But of those performances I have been fortunate enough to see, these are the most memorable.

Ethan’s Last Rent Party at Kings Place. Ethan Iverson, aided and abetted by fellow-pianists Alexander Hawkins and Adam Fairhall, exploring the links between British music in the first decades of the twentieth century and Black American music, syncopation and jazz.

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Kairos 4tet at Rich Mix. Saxophonist Adam Waldman, leading a quartet through his own compositions, with Emilia Martensson and Alice Zawadski on vocals.

Amy Rigby at The Betsy Trotwood. A joyous and generous solo performance of Amy’s songs, with readings from her prose and poetry to match. Great evening!

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Shostakovich 6th Symphony – LPO / Vladimir Jurowski at the Royal Festival Hall.

Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto. Nicola Benedetti with the LSO /Gianandrea Noseda at the Barbican.

Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 & Beethoven String Quartet No. 7. Emerson String Quartet at Milton Court.

And, pre-recorded, but very much a living experience, the Forty Part Motet (Spem in Alium – Tallis) arranged by Janet Cardiff at the Richmond Chapel, Penzance.

RECORDED …

Just as Shostakovich tends to dominate the live music selection, so Thelonious Monk [no surprise!] dominates my selection of music on CD. Monk features a live session recorded in Copenhagen in March, 1963 and previously thought lost, and, similarly, Monk: The Lost Recordings, captures a 1967 concert in Rotterdam. Wadada Leo Smith’s Solo: Reflections & Meditations on Monk mixes his solo interpretations on trumpet of five Monk compositions with three of his own.

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Monk

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Tracey Thorn’s Record contains a number of beautifully written and crafted songs ,exploring the life of a  woman not too far distant from, one imagines, herself. And the 14th Volume of the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series, More Blood, More Tracks, presents the original, stripped down versions of the songs from one of his best albums, Blood on the Tracks and encourages you to listen to them afresh.

RecordThe Bootleg Series Vol. 14_ More Blood, More Tracks

 

 

Art of the Year, 2018

Well, even if I haven’t got to see everything I would have liked, it’s been a good year, especially for encountering artists I hadn’t come across before, Rana Begum for one. Her work somehow combines facets of minimalism with various kinds of patterning, some of her pieces (many?) depending for their effect on a kind of optical illusion. You thought you knew what this was? Then look again. And again. Whereas her show at the Djanogly gallery in Nottingham gave a fuller sense of her overall practice, at Ketttle’s Yard in Cambridge she filled a chapel annex with baskets you were forced to bend your way under and around, and at Tate St. Ives, in addition to a selection of small paintings, she hung painted fishing nets from the walls and filled a table with a variety of white sculptures based on different shapes and sizes of fishing floats. Fascinating.

Camden Arts Centre has a knack of presenting interesting work by lesser known artists and this year’s exhibition of abstract work by Amy Sillman was no exception. Great use of colour in the larger abstract pieces, set off against cartoon-like and politically (small p) figuration. I nearly missed Heidi Bucher at the Parasol Unit, a medium-size gallery next to Victoria Miro off City Road and was so pleased that I didn’t. Not dissimilar in some ways from the working practices of Rachel Whiteread or Anthony Gormley, Bucher [she died in 1993] made latex casts of building interiors (doors, windows), objects and clothing, the resultant ‘skinnings’ hung from ceilings or displayed on walls. Beautiful and deeply, deeply unsettling.

Just about as unsettling as the huge paintings of faces – mostly faces, overflowing flesh and faces – in the brilliant exhibition of Jenny Saville’s work at the Scottish National Gallery. I’d never seen as much of her work in one place before and the effect was close to overwhelming. But brilliant.

Caroline Walker is an artist whose development I’ve been happy to follow for quite a while now [ever since those days when I could afford to buy it!] and the paintings that comprised Home, again at Kettle’ s Yard, are amongst her best, not least for the care and dignity she gives to her subjects, all of whom are/were female asylum seekers living in London.

Finally, mention of three near-perfectly curated [to use the word in its proper sense, for once] shows : Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern, Cezanne Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and the Permanent Collection rehang at Tate St. Ives.

 

Books of the Year, 2018

Much of my reading time this year has been spent working my way through a two-volume edition of D. H.Lawrence’s Complete (?) Letters. Currently, I’m up to page 945, November 1926. 301 pages and four years to go. Other large works that have happily taken my time are Thomas McGuane’s Collected and New Stories, Cloudbursts, weighing in a 556 pages and two books about Abstract Expressionism and the art world of New York in the middle of the last century – de Kooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan and Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women, which concentrates on five women artists who kept their heads above water in an otherwise all-male tide: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. Pretty much the subject matter of the PhD thesis I never got around to writing, in fact, save that I would have concentrated more on the work and less on the biography. I think.

I was pleased that Robin Robertson’s noirish The Long Take won the Goldsmiths’ Prize for fiction that “opens up new possibilities for the novel form”. As far as I can see it’s a long poem sequence hemmed together with occasional sections of prose: a poem in the form of a novel – new possibilities, indeed. Also short-listed for the Goldsmiths’ was Gabriel Josipovici’s enigmatic and beautifully written The Cemetery in Barnes – at a fraction over 100 pages more (less?) a novella than a novel and, in these days of overblown fiction, all the better for it. The Long Take was also on the short list for this year’s Man Booker Prize, which was won by Anna Burns’ Milkman, which I found oddly compulsive in parts – chilling and funny – but by my take overly repetitive and just, yes, too long. I haven’t yet read the Daisy Johnson, but intend to as I very much enjoyed her short story collection, Fen. After greatly admiring Sarah Baume’s A Line Made By Walking, I began Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither with considerable anticipation which the first section, Spill, did nothing to allay – quite superb, in fact – but after that … oh, dear, what a falling away …

Amongst the crime fiction I’ve read, I’ve enjoyed new novels by Eva Dolan, Kjell Ola-Dahl,  Mick Herron, Attica Locke, Garry Disher and John Lincoln (Williams), as well as rereading Peter Temple’s Jack Irish series and Jamie Harrison’s delightful The Edge of the Crazies. Best of all, Ross Thomas’ 1984 novel, Briarpatch. So good I read it twice.

And, overall, the book that impressed me most this year – and one that I went back to with no little trepidation – was Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Even better than I’d remembered.